One man’s attempt to create a worthwhile emoji and get it approved by the Unicode Consortium.
The emoji, that little cartoon character that has quickly become our modern hieroglyphic, an emotion or statement that expresses all in a single image. I must confess, I mainly use the smiley face, and occasionally have blown a few kisses, but that was the extent of my emojiness.
Yet, when communicating with friends from around the world, those images really are their own language, and are free from needing translation. They are also a proven technique for higher views, for those who post a lot of social media content. As an aside, the magic formula is two emojis, one photo and at least three hashtags. Now, back to the story…
Around the beginning of September 2018, I was crafting a post that needed to look Russian, it was for a Russian speaking audience and I thought a Matryoshka would be the perfect accent to get a better result. Yes, there are such things as Russian flags and a Ruble symbol, but those are about Russia, not necessarily Russian speakers, or Russian culture, or the Russian language. In fact, I couldn’t find anything that reflected the wider use of the term Russian.
Surely, someone has cooked up a balalaika symbol, or some dome topped buildings? Nope, I was in uncharted territory, and it wasn’t just a generic empty space. It was the big social media landscape, as in, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—maybe you’re heard of them?
So there I was, a graphic artist of sorts, thinking it might just be as simple as creating my matryoshka emoji and uploading it, somehow. I began reading and following one link to the next, and then it became clear; you can share an image, call it an emoji, but in reality, it’s not. To be a legitimate emoji, your image must be approved by the Unicode Consortium. There is an entire vetting process, and a competition for few available slots each year. So, there it is–not an easy task.
A waste of time? Perhaps, but worldwide, human beings share 6 billion emojis a day, and when you consider the 5 billion mobile devices in use, where my little image could appear… maybe this is not a trivial pursuit after all. Especially when the goal is nothing more than a way to share the charm of East European culture.
At this point, I’m morbidly curious and decide I’ll try to do get a Matryoshka doll entered into the emoji database. If I fail, nothing is lost, but if I succeed… 🙂
I scoured the consortium website, downloaded the application criteria and went to work. There are some interesting things you can learn during this process. First, they take these little images really seriously. And if you’re introducing something that already exists, you’ll be shot down immediately. Second, a blue horse, as opposed to a red horse, or whatever similarly unique idea you have, is not going to be welcomed either. Essentially, there are already dozens of smiley faces making every gesture known to man, so skip that as well. Your idea has to be new and unique and not trendy.
But my idea was new! Apparently, untouched and my justification for it’s approval was legitimate:
First off, I’ve spent many years working in the Russian speaking community. And I learned early on that the term…”Russian”, is very broad, and in the post-soviet sense it includes all the countries of the FSU because the Russian language was a requirement there for 70 years. But “Russian” is more than that, during the Soviet era, citizens were sent where they were needed, which meant moving between countries was quite normal. It was also common to be from one country and your children born elsewhere but still within the FSU. This meant, in modern terms, you could be Russian with children born in Ukraine or Moldova or Belarus, but they were still considered “Russian”. Adjust the order of those countries and you can see why many Russian communities in the US are often a mix of FSU compatriots.
Secondly, the traditions, culture and heritage of those moving within the FSU were often carried from place to another, which is why there are strong similarities in how all those countries, even today, celebrate New Year, Woman’s Day (March 8th), and numerous other annual events.
Thirdly, when you try to address this incredibly large population of expats, compatriots and citizens of each country, you’ll find that a flag, or two or five, isn’t always the right way to express your message. Additionally, you have to consider the dynamics of religion. The FSU countries are very diverse in terms of religion, with some religions more dominant in one country than another.
Taking all of that into account, I proposed that the Matryoshka doll, a non political, non religious, openly recognized and popular symbol be added to the emoji keyboards around the world. I drew up some samples and presented research to support my point–another requirement for consideration.
I used Google trends, admittedly for the first time, to support my claim that the Matryoshka doll, in all her wonder and glory, could do what no flag or monetary symbol was capable of accomplishing: it could represent East European Culture.
Here is what I was able to demonstrate;
Aside from some fake news attempts to create collusion with Russia, the worldwide search term for ‘Russian’ is higher than the word Russia.
Additionally, search trends for Matryoshka Doll were almost 30% higher worldwide over the commonly accepted “Russian Doll” used by Americans.
These two trends proved that Russian is a broader term, and that most people from that demographic know the name of symbol I proposed.
One of the additional requirements for acceptance, is that your proposed emoji represents a trend that is consistent, rather than one that follows a fad and then declines over time. My research revealed that both Old East Slavic and the term Russian Doll tracked consistently and were intertwined on separate occurrences, with an ongoing trend that was evenly established without decline. Success!
With that I packed everything up, per the requirements and sent it off to Unicode. Now I’ll wait for a response. If they reject it, then I failed. If they ask for more details, there is hope. If approved, it will most likely not appear on your emoji keyboard until 2020. That is just how the process works.
All things considered, I think it’s worth the wait, as any effort that unites people is a noble pursuit, especially at a time when we’re being divided by location, religion, or politics. I’ll update this article as the project moves forward 🙂
UPDATE: December 10, 2018
I was notified by the Unicode Consortium about two weeks ago that my submission had merit and that I would need to refine the details to make the most compelling case for inclusion in the next review of potential additions. Essentially, I had made it past the first stage!
I was assigned a case manager and given a list of instructions that included developing more research and supporting data. I felt like I was back at University, writing a term paper, complete with footnotes, references and more charts.
I won’t bore you with each detail, but found it interesting that they asked me to include the Russian speaking side of the equation in regards to social media references. For example, popular Russian websites such as OK.ru and VK.com had far more references to Matryoshka than US based Facebook and Twitter. For me, this was not a surprise, except that Americans tend to think that Facebook is the standard that everyone uses around the world, the same for Twitter.
Not really, at least not according to the results when compared side by side.
I also added details about the Russian speaking population worldwide, but it was recommended I limit it to the population of Russia and diaspora for ease of verifying my numbers. This was a tough one, as I was essentially loosing almost 100 million people in those numbers, but whatever it takes to get the project approved.
So that’s the news for now, the board that approved new emoji’s will meet in January 2019 and if all goes well, I’ll have some positive news soon 🙂
Jef Gray, Author / Publisher / Emoji Maker 😉