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The little smiley face :) and its cousins, known in most circles as Emoticons, turn 25 this year.
Emoticons have become common place in many forms of digital communications, from e-mail to instant messaging (IM). With IM however, all the major public IM platforms (AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft (Quote)) have made emoticons a core part of their platforms.
In what may be the largest survey of its kind ever undertaken, Yahoo surveyed 40,000 users about their emoticon usage. A Yahoo (Quote) spokesperson explained that Yahoo Messenger users were asked about their experience with emoticons with instant messaging in general, not exclusive to Yahoo.
Though some of the finding confirmed long held beliefs, other conclusions were somewhat more surprising.
"While we weren't surprised to learn that 82 percent of respondents are using emoticons in their everyday communication, we were surprised by how many users admitted they would propose marriage via IM rather than in person," a Yahoo spokesperson said. "Clearly, the emoticon has become an important form of communication."
Happiness was noted by 83 percent of survey of respondent as being one of the top two emotions they use emoticons for in communication. Second? Flirting.
It's not always about the smiley face either, the survey fond that 14 percent of men and 11 percent of women use IM and emoticons to fire an employee.
Apparently emoticon usage crosses the age divide, with 48 percent of respondents over 50 claiming to use emoticons everyday. Those aged 19 to 25 use emoticons even more, with 68 percent of respondents in that age group reporting everyday usage.
The perceived gender gap in emoticon usage however is quite pronounced, with 82 percent admitting that they thought women use emoticons more than men.
Yahoo isn't the only IM vendor that sees high emoticon usage, AOL does too.
"We definitely agree that people love to use emoticons to express themselves in online conversations," Julie McCool, vice president of client safety & management at AOL, told internetnews.com. "Emoticons are so popular that at one point, over 90 percent of AOL IM users used emoticons."
The emoticon at 25 has far exceeded the original expectation of the man credited with inventing them -- Carnegie Mellon University Scott Fahlman.
"It's surprising to me that people still use these things -- they were very much a product of the limited character sets that we had in the 1980s," Fahlman wrote in a blog post.
"But they're quick, convenient, versatile, and occasionally clever, so maybe they'll live on even in a world where we all have access to graphics and voice and video in our messages. Of course, if written communication dies out altogether, as some have predicted, then the emoticon will die with it, but I don't expect to see that."
This article was first published on InternetNews.com.