First smileys date back to time of Plato, apparently

Not really born in 1982 after all...


Last week's piece on the rediscovery of the first smiley produced a predictably bumper response from our busy and serious-minded readership. For starters, Biran Culvey would like us to "correct an obvious error. Discussion of Star Trek was only a short diversion from the more serious and lengthy discussion of short, cute aliens holding power tools. Will you correct this or must we get ET and his chainsaw involved?"

We are of course happy to oblige, and regret any inadvertent slur we may have cast on the gravitas of the team that invented the first smiley. Not, of course, that they necessarily did. More seriously - much more seriously - Brian Dear bounces in with the information that he's writing a book about the Plato system, which originated in 1961, and where smileys were used at least a decade ahead of their 'invention' at CMU. Both The Register and Slashdot are duly reprimanded here, and the claim to prior art can be seen here.

So if anything the 1982 date simply marks the invention of the first ASCII smiley, and that doesn't sound anything like as good. "PLATO folks scoffed at plain ASCII 'smileys'," writes Brian, "because they were so primitive and required one turning one's head sideways to see."

More prior art comes from (and no, we are not making this up) Ken Smiley, director of Research at Giga Information Group: "I just read your article regarding the first Smiley face being found. With all do respect to Mr. Fahlman who thinks he invented the Smiley face in the world of computers, he is incorrect, in fact he's off by a good 10-15 years. My father, the head of IT for Coca Cola in the midwest region in the 60's and 70's used to print out Smiley faces on both punch tape (60's) and punch cards (70's) to entertain me while I was tagging along with him at the office and 'playing with the computers. The old terminals that were used were some sort of green screens, probably Wyse, but I'm not certain, upon which I had attempted to send :) to my father and have it print out a smiley face on the punch card pattern only to find that :) on the terminal didn't equate to the same thing on punch cards. I believe Mr. Fahlman may have been the first person to actively pursue and recommend the smiley face emoticon to represent laughter or a joke in conversation on a computer, but my father and I had been producing Smiley-faces on tape, on card and on screen long before 1982. I don't mean to suggest in any way that Mr. Fahlman copied us or stole our idea, only that his last name isn't Smiley and was unaware of what had transpired before him. Someone might want to tell the researchers at Microsoft to rummage around for some old punch cards. :)"

Well, having said we're not making it up, we're not entirely sure Ken mightn't be. But if he is, he's a plausible cove, and we expect one of you lot will have found one on the Rosetta Stone by this time next week... ®


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