Stickers, emoji & other social-media conversation add-ons

By Anne Collier

You may’ve noticed this too: Online and on-phone conversations have gotten very mixed-media – very artful, in a sense. Have you noticed that our children are among the most creative mixed-media conversationalists now? It’s delightful to see the fun they have with this. Take stickers, for example. Because they’re now part of Version 3 of the Path app, as I mentioned in my last post, and Path’s popularity is growing fast, stickers – little pictograph-like images the size of a character of text – may be a phenomenon to watch in the youth-tech space.

But not everybody’s sure they’ll take off in the West. These little images that come out of the emoticon “tradition” are even more complex and diverse than the “emoji” so popular in Japan going back to the ’90s – which may make them too much work for the average text message or comment in a photo-sharing app. “Even though I’m in the target audience for these sticker apps – always looking for new ways to spice up my text messages – I have found some of the stickers a bit too gimmicky,” writes the New York Times’s Jenna Wortham, “at least when compared with their less fussy, emoji predecessors. I found it hard to imagine the images gaining conversational traction among my friends, which is half the fun of using visual icons in the first place.” But Jenna proves the point that conversations – whether in texts or messenger or media-sharing apps – have gotten more visual. Communicators are expressing themselves in a multitude of visual ways: with clever ways of using text (such as hashtags in Instagram comments as much as Twitter tweets) and with pictures-worth-a-thousand-word ways, whether in personal statements through photos (singly or in montages) or by grabbing a tiny graphic to make a point (sometimes a little heart).

Social media users are hackers, in a way (the cool, creative kind). Give them a media tool or feature, and they’ll make it their own in a myriad ways. It happens with entire apps as well as with features in them – they add favorite tweaks and tools and adapt features in them, and they also use different apps for different purposes and different friends and social circles. Socializing on the mobile platform (where most digital socializing is for teens now, it seems) is very creative. [For more on emoji, see Jenna Wortham’s December 2011 piece on them.]

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