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For all the hate we give them – emoticons solved a problem that we didn’t know existed – distinguishing between sarcasm and seriousness.
Rather than acknowledge that emoticons simplify ambiguous comments, we say they’re ruining the english language, much like you’s guys and y’all¹. Not everybody is a wordsmith, so a little extra punctuation helps. If you’re goal is to be understandable rather than obtuse, then write for a well read 6 year old.
As long as we keep them in messages rather than essays, what harm do emoticons create? Possibly:
1. People hide behind emoticons - to avoid saying what they really mean. However, that’s nothing new, people use jokes to convey difficult messages all the time. And emoticons are better than excessive use of exclamation points! See!
2. Emoticons create laziness - Rather than find the right words for a sentence, people use emoticons as placeholders. Otherwise we’d all be talking like Aaron Sorkin’s right? Really? Removing some punctuation would improve language? How about removing the word ‘interesting’? I guarantee you your vocabulary will go up by 100 words that you replace it with.
3. They look annoying – Yeah that’s true. But I’m talking about the traditional ones (like this ;). All animated ones can go to hell.
4. They close a bracket that wasn’t opened – Then try my solution used in point 3. If you’re a programmer and this matters to you, create a game where you only use emoticons while they are part of a bracket.
Other useful innovations that people find annoying
- Hashtags popularised by the Twitter
- Organising parties and contacts were fixed by the Facebook
- Video and picture sharing were fixed by the YouTube and Flickr
- Shopping was simplified by Amazon and Ebay
- Textspeak solved a problem communicating via sms. Unlike emoticons, they have no place in messages now. And they definitely have no place in everyday communication. Nor do any of the above.
The objective of startups is to solve an annoying problem
I keep hearing that all startups are doing are reinventing the wheel. If that’s true, then why do we still have these pain-points that need to be fixed:
Event bookings - Instagram is the new Facebook for 20 year olds. Meanwhile, Facebook is chasing the 50 year olds money. Why would they care, they own Instagram. Instagram does everything Facebook does except event invites. Who will create a party invite service for 20 year olds that integrates their calendar, Facebook event, concert tickets, and events from Instagram?
Identification - Facebook could become the drivers licence of the internet. Someone needs to act as a third party system to make this work. I’m not talking about privacy here, I’m talking about genuine situations where if you could verify your real identity, life would be much simpler. Eg. Emailing your bank rather than deal with a call centre.
Shopping carts – that integrate into your site are horrible. From a customers perspective: they timeout, forget details, allow people to sell products that aren’t in inventory. Installing one? Don’t get me started on setting up merchant accounts, paypal, google wallets. ZenCarts is a nightmare to customise for a wordpress site, so you end up buying the template.
Money transfer - Paypal and Western Union are expensive. Now all the banks want onboard. The same guys that take 2 weeks to send me a new bank card after fraud?
Phone calls while travelling - Telco’s charge a fortune for international roaming. The simplest system still involves buying a SIM in every country you travel to. International SIMs can cost more than taking your phone with you.
Robbed overseas? The best unofficial system is Africa’s prepaid mobile phones. The best system in Australia? The TAB. Deposit money into your account, give your login to the intended recipient, and they collect the money from any TAB in Australia. Why isn’t electonic money transfer as simple as using cash?
Meanwhile, the best innovation is happening at a smaller scale. The best startups find solutions to smaller problems:
Sceptics – Reading an opinionated article whether they tell you or not? Rbutr automatically shows you the other side of the argument.
Blogging - ContentDJ organises blogging and social media updates onto a calendar. It will also integrate ideal posting times. It’s second amazing feature is that it researches what you should write about automatically.
Copy and paste – Tim Ferris just mentioned using Jumpcut stops you feeling like a sad keyboard monkey.
Passwords – I still use LastPass. One password to rule them all.
¹ These terms make people squeamish though they are quite logical. Most other languages have a word for a collective of others. Eg Vosotros in Spanish. Because we lost our word with the collapse of formal and informal language in English, bogans and hicks have replaced those words.
The real question is: what itch does your business scratch?