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The First Smiley :-)

Mike Jones

Compiled by Marïnais.

The smile `:-)' and its many variants are an important (and fun!) part of the worldwide online social culture — allowing emotions to be conveyed in plain text. It has been in widespread use since the early '80s, when it was invented. Yet the original message in which the smile was proposed first had been lost — until now. :-) After a significant effort to locate it, on Sep 10, 2002 the original post made by Scott E.Fahlman on Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) general `bulletin board' (bboard) was retrieved by Jeff Baird from an October 1982 backup tape of the Spice VAX (CMU-750x).

The part of the thread on the `bulletin board' that led to Scott E. Fahlman's invention of the smile `:-)' is below.

The original `joke' thread that led to the invention of the smile is here: http://research.microsoft.com/~mbj/Smiley/Joke_Thread.html. For even more context you can view the full contents of the `bulletin board' from the October 1982 here: http://research.microsoft.com/~mbj/Smiley/BBoard_Co\ ntents.html. Scott E.Fahlman has a page about the smile here: http://www. cs.cmu.edu/~sef/sefSmiley.htm.


16-Sep-82 11:51    James Wright at CMU-780D     Related question
Of equal interest is how the birds cheeping will sound after they have
inhaled the Helium.

16-Sep-82 12:09    Neil Swartz at CMU-750R      Pigeon type question
This question does not involve pigeons, but is similar:
There is a lit candle in an elevator mounted on a bracket attached to the
middle of one wall (say, 2" from the wall).  A drop of mercury is on the
floor.  The cable snaps and the elevator falls.  What happens to the candle
and the mercury?


16-Sep-82 17:21    Howard Gayle at CMU-780G     WARNING!
Because of a recent physics experiment, the leftmost elevator has been
contaminated with mercury.  There is also some slight fire damage.
Decontamination should be complete by 08:00 Friday.


16-Sep-82 21:34    Rudy Nedved at CMU-10A       Re: WARNING!!
The previous bboard message about mercury is related to the comment by Neil
Swartz about Physics experiments. It is not an actual problem.

Last year parts of Doherty Hall were closed off because of spilled mercury.
My high school closed down a lab because of a dropped bottle of mercury.

My apology for spoiling the joke but people were upset and yelling fire in
a crowded theatre is bad news....so are jokes on day old comments.


17-Sep-82 10:35    Neil Swartz at CMU-750R      Answer to elevator question
The answer is that the candle goes out due to lack of oxygen.  (There are
no longer any convection currents to keep feeding it)  The mercury forms
into an ellipsoid due to surface tension.  In balling up it exerts a force
on the floor which sends it towards the ceiling.  It will bounce back and
forth between ceiling and floor until the elevator hits the ground.  All of
this neglects the friction on the guide rails, vibrations, etc.

Any resemblance of this problem to any real situation is purely
coincidence, or in the mind of an operations staff person.

17-Sep-82 10:58    Neil Swartz at CMU-750R      Elevator posts
Apparently there has been some confusion about elevators and such.  After
talking to Rudy, I have discovered that there is no mercury spill in any of
the Wean hall elevators.  Many people seem to have taken the notice about
the physics department seriously.

Maybe we should adopt a convention of putting a star (*) in the subject
field of any notice which is to be taken as a joke.


17-Sep-82 13:04    Scott Fahlman at CMU-10A     Elevators (*)
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the elevator...

Unfortunately, the center elevator now contains what seems to be the
remains of 40,000 two-pound pigeons in an advanced state of decomposition
and the right elevator contains a bear of indeterminate color.  The left
elevator appears to be safe, but when you stand in it for too long, your
voice gets squeaky and you start running into the walls, causing the
elevator to rise.

Despite the * in the header of this message, this is not a joke and should
be taken quite literallly.  Do not panic -- taking the stairs is good for


17-Sep-82 14:59    Joseph Ginder at CMU-10A     (*%)

I believe that the joke character should be % rather than *.

17-Sep-82 15:15    Anthony Stentz at CMU-780G   (*%)
How about using * for good jokes and % for bad jokes?
We could even use *% for jokes that are so bad, they're funny.


17-Sep-82 17:40    Keith Wright at CMU-10A      *%&#$ Jokes!
No, no, no!  Surely everyone will agree that "&" is the funniest character
on the keyboard.  It looks funny (like a jolly fat man in convulsions of
laughter).  It sounds funny (say it loud and fast three times).  I just
know if I could get my nose into the vacuum of the CRT it would even smell

17-Sep-82 17:42    Leonard Hamey at CMU-10A     {#} (previously *)
A detailed (i.e. > 1 minute) study of the aesthetic and pictographic
effects of the characters available in the ASCII set has led to the
following suggestion:

I think that the joke character should be the sequence {#} because it looks
like two lips with teeth showing between them.  This is the expected result
if someone actually laughs their head off.  An obvious abbreviation of this
sequence would be the hash character itself (which can also be read as the
sharp character and suggests a quality which may be lacking in those too
obtuse to appreciate the joke.)


17-Sep-82 18:52    Jim Crowley at CMU-10A       BB Jokes
BB jokes are fine and should not require a marker.
But jokes should not be malicious, obscene, or such that they appear to
resemble real warnings to all but a few.  Last nights elevator hoax was a
borderline case of this last type.


18-Sep-82 20:40    Guy Steele at CMU-10A        ! Joke markers again
I hope everyone realized that my previous remark about non-use of joke
markers was a joke, and was flagged as such by the absence of a marker.
This message is not a joke, as indicated by the exclamation point.


19-Sep-82 11:44    Scott E  Fahlman             :-)
From: Scott E  Fahlman <Fahlman at Cmu-20c>

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:
:-) Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use :-( <...> 401324192,0,0 19-Sep-82 18:56 Jeff Shrager at CMU-10A 38521,03,9(6),9(9),1(5),0 Just signifying that a message is a joke is certainly not sufficient. One can develop a taxonomy of bboard message types along several different dimensions. Also, where a continuum is preferable to a taxonomy (such as where humor value is at issue) one can similarly use a scale to indicate where along that scale this message lies. Suppose that all dimensions are refered to by a ten point scale (we'll use all integers here although one can certainly imagine reals in the case of fine grain continuous scales). Some dimensions will be bitwise encoded as well. Here is a sample of a coding scheme: COMMUNITY: (this is a binary scale with a bit position for each department totalling about 32 bits) TOPIC: (two digits 00–99) (00) Political, (01) Scientific, (02) Computer, (03) Meta, etc FLAME VALUE: (continuous 0.0–10.0) HUMOR VALUE: (0.0–10.0) BORDOM VALUE: (0.0–10.0) INFORMATIONAL CONTENT: (-10.0 (for queries) to 10.0 (for their answers)) Note that some of these scales are purely according to the opinion of the author. Thus, we provide, also, a confidence scale: to go along with each continuous scale (to be enclosed in parens after the value). <...> 401373240,0,0 20-Sep-82 08:34 Jaime Carbonell at CMU-10A & # % :-) ... To resolve ambiguity, how about a JOKE BB? We can hook up some of that highly-touted write-only memory just for this purpose. While I'm at it, how about a flame BB using the latest cryogenic junction memory (to cool down the contents of the memory, of course). <...> 401401420,0,0 20-Sep-82 16:23 Dave Touretzky at CMU-10A (-: bboard software change As of October 1st, the General bboard will be renamed the Jokes bboard. Please update your SWITCH.INI file. In the event of a serious notice, we will post it under the name «Sharon Burks». When the bboard contains messages whose total bogosity score exceeds 5000 microLenats, the file will be zeroed so novice bboard players can have a chance to score. <...> 401407003,0,0 20-Sep-82 17:56 15–1xx Labs at CMU-750Y jokes \__/ We on the gandalf vax have our own code word for a joke. The above symbol is universally known as a smile. Also, perhaps Jeff could include in his scale a «length to humor ratio», as we seem to notice that the relation between some post's lengths are inversely proportional to their length.   Not Sharon Burks,   'ob and 'im <...> 401423610,0,0 20-Sep-82 22:33 James Driscoll at CMU-10A IC After Dark The first meeting of the (unofficial) IC <integrated circuits> mini-course ``Pittsburgh After Dark'' will be this Thursday at 9:00 PM in the CS lounge. The first lecture will be ``Shadyside Bars: Taxonomy, Characteristics, and Examples.'' Lab follows lecture. Participants should bring proof of age. New students are encouraged to attend. |-: (This is not a joke) <...> 401480879,0,0 21-Sep-82 14:27 Wilson Harvey at CMU-IUS (-: Dramatic bb posts :-) could be flagged with the above notation. Things like ...   «I was a Teen-age Hacker»   or   «I won't write that subroutine for you. I won't because every part of   me wants to.» :-|   Seriously, I have found someone's pen in the CS Supply Room. Send me   mail to get it back. <...> 401561002,0,0 22-Sep-82 12:43 Robert Thibadeau at CMU-10A Pittsburgh Zoo Options The zoo is a worthwhile place to visit, but in my three years in Pittsburgh I have watched it deteriorate for lack of funds. Fortunately they have this wonderful 'adopt an animal' program. The adoption can be a day or month. Orangutanns eat light at $.75 a day or $22.50 a month, and for $15 a day or $450 a month you get yourself an entire elephant. Double that and you can probably have his name changed to Clyde. Triple it and I bet they will let you dye him pink. Visitation rights come with any adoption. The flyer is on my office door -- 5321. <...> 401566447,0,0 22-Sep-82 14:14 John Schlag at CMU-750R :-) AI Elephant (-: I think all the members of the CMU AI community should pitch together to adopt an elephant at the Zoo. Of course, Thibadeau's suggestion of tripling the price should be taken. <...> 4 01592391,0,0 22-Sep-82 21:26 Masaru Tomita at CMU-10A (:-O) missing picture The picture of me on the picture board in the CS lounge is missing. One of the members of Tommy's fan club must have taken it. Please note that I have a wife. 401592670,0,0 22-Sep-82 21:31 James Muller at CMU-750Y ? I propose that the above character be placed in the subject field of all posts which ask questions.   ''' <...> 401599791,0,0 22-Sep-82 23:29 Ravinder Chandhok :-( (-: From: Ravinder Chandhok at CMU-750Y Perhaps what we really need is a 'bb notation' bboard for such posts that relate to notation and signals.   Ro'


Many people were involved in this computing archaeology success story. I (Mike Jones) kicked off the effort in February 2002 by looking through some old bulletin board program (Bags) sources, figuring out the filename that the post would likely be found under (/usr/cmu/lib/bb/general.bb), and asking Howard Wactlar, the former Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science (CMU SCS) facilities director, whether the file could still be restored. Scott E.Fahlman provided data narrowing the probable span of time during which the post was made. Howard Wactlar and Bob Cosgrove, the current director, determined that backup tapes from that period (1981–1983) still existed and asked Jeff Baird of the facilities staff to try to find and restore the post. Dave Livingston of facilities located a working 9- track tape drive and a machine to use it on. Kirk Berthold and Michael Riley in Computer Science (CS) operations managed retrieving tapes from offsite archival storage. Grad student Dan Pelleg's FreeBSD machine was used to read the 4.1BSD dump format tapes using a compatibility mode in the restore program. (Later in the effort a NetBSD machine was used to do the same thing.) Dale Moore looked for the post on Tops-20 backup tapes from CMU20C. But by all accounts, Jeff Baird should get most of the credit for doing the hard work of locating and retrieving the data. He kept asking for more tapes, reading those that could still be read, narrowing the date range, and sticking with it until the post was found. Thanks all for your efforts to restore this part of computing history, and especially, thanks Jeff!


  1. Michael B.Jones. The First Smiley :-). — http://research.microsoft.com/~mbj/Smiley/Smiley.html, Sep 12, 2002.
  2. Complete Bboard Post Sequence in Which the :-) Was Invented. — http://research.microsoft.com/~mbj/Smiley/BBoard_Contents.html .