Searching For A Smile


What happens if you search the web for the Unicode character "☺"?

On the one hand, it's a symbol just like the letter A or the punctuation mark "!" - on the other, it contains semantic meaning. A smiling, happy face.

I decided to look at a few popular search engines to see what they'd return.

First up, a surprisingly poor entry from Google.
Smile Google-fs8
The site at the top by Tim Whitlock is fine - but it's hardly an authoritative site. The rest appear to be random sites with the character in the URL.

Next up Bing and the Bing-powered Yahoo.
Smile Bing-fs8
Smile Yahoo-fs8
Ok... I guess the smiling face is happy. And Pharrell's song is probably what people are looking for when they search for "happy".

Indie darling DuckDuckGo has an interesting set of results.
Smile DuckDuckGo-fs8
That's actually pretty good! A definition from Wikipedia and some related links on the right. The suggested results are quite useful.

Remember Dogpile? One of the first meta-search engines.
Smile Dogpile-fs8
The first couple of results are quite good for programmers - the rest seem a little random, with a duplicate thrown in for good measure.

Good old Ask Jeeves.
Smile Ask-fs8
Proving once again why no one uses them!

Turning to non-English sites, Baidu's results seem to just be sites which use a lot of the ☺ character.
Smile Baidu-fs8

Finally, Yandex - the Russian giant.
Smile Yandex-fs8
That translates to "Syntax Error"!

Social Networks

None of the major social networks can cope with a smiley...
Smile Flickr-fs8

Smile Facebook-fs8

Smile Twitter-fs8

So What?

There are two issues at play here. Firstly, Emoticons have been in Unicode since 2010 and the Smiley Face since the original version of Unicode in 1991! That's more than enough time for search engine designers to get used to the fact that people will search for a multitude of characters and glyphs. Come on programmers, get your ? together!

Secondly, what does ☺ mean? If I search for "dog" is that the same as searching for "?"? The purpose of many Emoji is to convey emotion - Twitter's advanced search allows you to query by the emotional context of a tweet. Should we be using these extra characters just as modifiers for our existing text?

It seems that the written word is an inadequate medium with which to express the human experience, he sighed dramatically.

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