236 new emojis are coming. They have been approved for a long time, but with the arrival of the new operating system Android 10 on the Pixel phones from Google and the upcoming iOS 13 update, they will soon also be on your smartphone. But how is a new emoji actually put on this earth?
This year a series of striking new emojis appeared: new gender-neutral variants for existing emojis, such as a police officer and a person at the hairdresser's, but also female variants of the same emojis, a waffle and a flamingo. The number of emojis is therefore officially 3,019.
But how did we get this far? We start with a piece of history.
How it once started
"NTT DoCoMo has made a list of pictographic characters that are intended to be used on the smartphone." With this sentence, the emoji came up for the first time in 2000 at the Unicode Consortium.
Smartphone programmer Graham Asher emphasized in this letter that he did not propose adding the emoji to Unicode, the prevailing standard for text on the internet that the consortium manages. "But I find it interesting to hear what people think about symbols."
Not a strange blow: at that time, emoji were primarily a Japanese issue. First there was SoftBank, a Japanese telephone manufacturer that released a cell phone with primitive emoji in 1997. This was followed by DoCoMo, which in 1999 gave its users the option of adding small images to emails and text messages.
Soon the phenomenon spread to other Japanese providers. These proto-emojis could not be exchanged between providers: if you sent an emoji to someone with another provider, they would only see two lines.
The Japanese providers tried to solve this problem with different translators who could convert one form of emoji into the other, but soon Western providers also encountered the problem.
Google made an attempt in 2006 to make the characters part of the general text standard. The company turned to Unicode: couldn't the images simply be added to the symbol list? That list covers most of the alphabets and punctuation marks on the planet and ensures that we can see Japanese characters in Europe too.
Only in 2010 did emoji officially become part of the symbol list. Since then, the number of emoji has been growing steadily.
It starts with a proposal
To add an emoji to the symbol list, you don't have to be an Apple or Google employee. You just have to be patient - and be sure of your case.
Anyone can submit a proposal via the proposal form. This starts simply: the Unicode Consortium first wants to know what the emoji should be called, what it should look like and where it should appear in the list.
Only then do the difficult questions follow. Because why does everyone have to use your emoji? Unicode uses a handy list of things that every emoji must meet. Is a version of the emoji often used somewhere online, for example, as an emoticon, and is the symbol genuinely different from existing emoji? Also important: does the emoji mean more than just the picture? Thus, the cat emoji can also be used as a symbol to radiate positivity, writes the Unicode Consortium itself in its explanation.
Then you also have to prove that your emoji is not too specific, is not a logo, does not already exist more or less and is not part of a fleeting hype. And, Unicode emphasizes, please do not request emojis just because they are for the good.
That is why Unicode has a flamingo emoji
Need inspiration? Unicode neatly keeps track of which emoji proposals have been adopted and how they are put together. For example, Apple asked for wheel chair and guide dog emojis because "the experiences of people with disabilities are not yet well represented by the existing emoji," and someone cited the popularity of the hashtag #wherestheflamingoemoji as a reason to add a flamingo emoji. Both were added to the emoji list this year.
You have to be careful with that. The Unicode Consortium doesn't like it when people whine at emojis on social media, it writes. "Don't just mention examples of people who ask for an emoji on social media. That is not reliable, usable data." Calling internet polls is also a possible blow to your proposal: they can easily be manipulated.
In addition to the process for individual emoji, Unicode offers two more options. You can have existing pictographic symbols converted to 'real', drawn emoji, but you can also ask Unicode to add a whole series of emoji. The procedures for both cases differ slightly.
And then the wait ...
Unicode accepts new proposals for the following year every year until 31 March. The earlier you are, the faster your emoji is included in the process. It may take up to thirty days for the special emoji committee to read your proposal at all. Then you get a list of suggestions: adjust the proposal and send it again.
Only when the emoji committee is happy with your proposal, can it go to the Unicode technical committee. This takes a long time: the technical committee meets only once per quarter. And often the committee does not immediately agree with each other, Unicode warns - it can take several quarters before all noses go in the same direction.
It also depends on the attitude of the major social media platforms. If Twitter, Apple and Facebook do not want to do anything with your emoji, chances are that the proposal will be adopted. And if there are too many proposals for similar emoji that year - such as different dog breeds - you may have to wait until next year. The Unicode Consortium wants new emojis to be "in balance": not too much of one or the other.
The technical committee finally takes a decision in the second quarter of the following year. If that 'yes' is, then your emoji will finally be in the official list in the second half of that year. Hoera! It only took a year and a half - if you were lucky and your proposal was put together well, of course.