:-) turns 25 years old today

Posted by Mark Raby

Pittsburgh (PA) - Three simple keystrokes gave a college professor his mark in the history books and gave the world a new wave of digital communication.

Multiple sources credit Carnegie Mellon professor Scott E. Fahlman with being the first to put together the colon-hyphen-parenthesis combination to create a "digital smiley face".

In an online message board at 11:44 AM Eastern Time on September 19, 1982, Fahlman wrote, "I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: :-).  Read it sideways."  In the same post, he also showed what is credited as the first digital frown, :-(

"This convention caught on quickly around Carnegie Mellon, and soon spread to other universities and research labs via the primitive computer networks of the day," said Fahlman.

Since then, digital expressions known as "emoticons" have evolved to the point of almost becoming their own language.  Different grammatical markers are now put together to show everything from laughter to disdain.

Carnegie Mellon's computer science department has created a webpage devoted to the 25-year history of the digital smiley face. The department credits Fahlman with its creation.

"It's always possible that someone else had the same idea — it's a simple and obvious idea, after all," said Fahlman in an Associated Press interview.  However, "I've never seen any hard evidence that the :-) sequence was in use before my original post, and I've never run into anyone who actually claims to have invented it before I did."