Sharing Feelings

Sharing Feelings or Being Clear or Communicating Subtlety --- RichardGabriel 4 Dec 2001

. . . you want to be able to convey emotions because NoManIsAnIsland, and you are trying to wrote an ?IntimateLetter, but even were you to take the time for a SlowLetter you are unable to show your emotions well. In Workgroups (SmallWorkGroupsComeAndGo) there needs to be a way to keep misunderstandings under control . . .

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Every person needs to convey emotions, share emotions. Ideally you should talk to the other person face-to-face or by telephone, but sometimes circumstances prevent this. Tone of voice, facial expressions, body movements and stances—--these are the language even the most inarticulate person learns to convey emotions accurately.

But in words? Conveying emotions well using words takes skill and patience, and even talent. Sometimes even the best writers are unable to convey sincerely what they feel or what they want to say that they feel. For many, the act of trying to convey emotions in words takes them out of those feelings, making it even harder to convey them.

Language is about information, surely, but also about the human condition and spirit. It's our blessing and curse to have to heap so much into language. There are some emotions we are afraid to express directly in front of others: some forms of love, hatred, disgust. It depends on each of us.

Even in a slow letter expressing emotions can be difficult, but especially in short notes or letters when you need to write quickly it is still important to get the emotions right. If, for example, you want to show you are not angry in a hurried letter, this could be hard to do because rapid writing is often curt and sounds to the reading mind like the sentences are cutoff. If the recipient is expecting a long letter and receives a short one, what is she to make of this? If she had a clue to the real emotion behind it....

In the early days of textual electronic communication, misunderstood sarcasm often sparked fierce disputes, and wisecracks too often prompted avalanches of response postings.


Use emoticons (emotional icons) and avatars (graphical, sometimes animated characters) to convey emotions. As an alternative, establish an emotional communication mechanism that is like a meta-statement—perhaps as parenthetical statements.

Emoticons can express only crudely how we feel, but they can be used to avoid communication blunders. This is especially true if you are writing sarcastically—the use of a friendly glyph can convey the sarcasm that the ineptness of overfast composition belies. These are some simple emoticons:

 :-)	Expresses happiness, sarcasm, or joke
 :-(	Expresses unhappiness
 :-]	Expresses jovial happiness
 :-[	Expresses despondent unhappiness
 :-D	Expresses jovial happiness
 :-I	Expresses indifference
 :-\	Indicates undecided, confused, or skeptical
 :-Q	Expresses confusion
 :-S	Expresses incoherence or loss of words
 :-@	Expresses shock or screaming
 :-O	Indicates surprise, yelling or realization of an error ("uh oh!")

The emoticon was first used in email in 1982 by the computer scientist Scott Fahlman. He was trying to find a more aesthetically pleasing way to convey that a statement or passage was to be taken as a joke. Earlier, the word "joke" was added after such a passage, but it seemed to Fahlman to be a poor way to convey the emotion.

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Build systems that recognize the strengths and weaknesses of people, as well as which fit into the way they work and the tasks they do every day. Carefully observe the failures and breakdowns of our tools and endeavor to improve them over time.

Sharing Feelings or Being Clear or Communicating Subtlety --- JoshuaKerievsky 07 Jan 2002

. . . when we communicate face to face, our clothes, our tone of voice, our eyes, our posture communicate on our behalf. How can our communication software be such a rich communication channel?

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The richness of our in-person communications is usually lost when we communicate in text.

Many people love to communicate via text because it is inexpensive (CheaperToUse) , fast (TimelyResponse, ExpedientResolution) and less intrusive than a phone call. The trouble is, since most of us aren't professional writers, our communications often lose their richness when we convert them to plain text.

For many, this loss of communication richness isn't a problem—they simply live with it, doing the best they can to communicate effectively. But others routinely get stung by miscommunications that result from their text, such as a jest that is taken seriously. The miscommunications sometimes trigger absurd or even painful events. For example, a miscommunication on a large, public email forum can lead to a public attack on someone's character (QualityControl — Moderation).

We can't prevent miscommunications from happening, but we can give people easy, convenient tools to help make their text communicate better on their behalf.


Provide a full-set of visual text enhancements—such as emoticons, ASCII-art, and digital pictures—to authors of textual communications and make it easy to insert these text enhancements into messages by making them visible on the screen and capable of being dragged and dropped or searched and inserted at the touch of a key. Make it easy to add to one's catalog of visual text enhancements.

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Visual text enhancements may be used to communicate ?DramaticEffect or Deep Emotion, provide a richer communication experience in StylizedLetter or IntelligentFormLetters, and clearly communicate feelings or preferences during an ExpedientResolution. They need to be available to us every machine (UniversalAccess) and must integrate intelligently with other tools (GoodIntegrationWithOtherTools).

Nonverbal Communication (was Sharing Feelings or Being Clear or Communicating Subtlety) --- ?RonGoldman 30 Jan 2002

. . . when two or more people communicate the QualityOfConversations depends on more than just the words they use. Especially for IntimateCommunication it is important to provide ways for people to convey their feelings.

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When we talk face-to-face with another person we use every cue and nuance we can to help us make sense of the message we receive. We look to the person's facial expression, body posture, tone of voice, and gestures as much as to the words they choose. The nonverbal channel enables us to interpret the verbal message: Are they being sarcastic, angry, joking or....

For conversations over other media we do not have access to all of these cues. Over the telephone we only have tone of voice and the rhythm of their speech. Over the computer we are left with just their words.

For someone hurriedly dashing off a quick email note, how will the recipient distinguish between haste and curtness? In a message from someone we do not know well, how do we differentiate between a joke and an insult? The answer is not very well as demonstrated by the countless disputes and flame wars that are seen in newsgroups and on mailing lists.

Writing clearly is difficult enough. Writing to also convey one's feelings takes skill and talent that not everyone has. Moreover not everyone is comfortable sharing their feelings with others.

What has evolved over the last twenty years in email and newsgroups is the practice of adding parenthetical comments to substitute for the missing nonverbal channel. In a message to show they are joking people would write the word "joke" or "<grin>" or "*chuckle*".

On September 19,1982 the computer scientist Scott Fahlman suggested on one of the CMU bboards that people explicitly label comments not meant to be serious with a :-) glyph. Thus was born the smiley or emoticon (emotional icon). Some common smileys are:

 :-)    smiling face
 :-(    sad face, or a frowny
 :-O    oh, noooo! Or a shout. Or a yawn.
 ;-)    winking face

Over the years people have created thousands of different smileys though only a few are in common use. There's even an emoticon dictionary with 650 examples compiled by David Sanderson, entitled "Smileys", published by O'Reilly & Associates.

Current chat systems extend the use of smileys. When the user types a smiley, both Yahoo and MSN display a graphic image of a cartoon face with the appropriate emotion displayed. The chat interface also includes a pull-down menu that allows a user to choose a graphic representing their mood. Some chat systems now support webcams so that people can broadcast an image of themselves.

Email also allows multimedia in that the sender can include a voice clip to introduce or comment on their message.


When building a computer application that people will use to communicate with each other be sure to include support for nonverbal communication. Make it easy for a person to include an emoticon or other graphical display to indicate their emotions. Make the communication channel as rich as possible.

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Other ways of showing the writer's mood can come out in a StylizedLetter. For group discussions the use of techniques like emoticons will be part of the group's culture—--NurtureCommunity.


Last edited December 26, 2002
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