There are literally hundreds of emojis but Microsoft believes what the world needs now are even more little icons to communicate our feelings, statuses and love of smiley cats. The big M has now made its emoji editor open source, meaning over 15,000 emojis can be edited, altered and bent to our will. This fantastic news for diversity, but I can't help but think the internet is going to abuse its new powers with NSFW emoji editions.
Every year the big developers – Apple, Adobe, Microsoft and others – release updated emoji designs, often to backlash like when Apple released its vaccine emoji but also great applause, such as when Microsoft brought back Clippy as an emoji. Now, for the Microsoft 365 ecosystem at least, you can edit and build on existing emoji designs and create them for yourself.
To be clear, you can't create new emojis from scratch but Microsoft is making its editor free to use and open source in Figma and on Github, so you can make your version of the 1,538 existing emojis, which could see some awkward results (read on).
In a blog, Jon Friedman, head of Microsoft Office Design says this will elevate diversity, writing: "This especially applies to developers and audiences who haven’t been historically included. A headdress, an Afro, a sari — enabling the world’s majority (aka Black and Brown people) to express themselves how they want, to whom they want, and when they want is not just powerful, but necessary."
This feels like an amazing step forwards, as Friedman shares how enabling users to edit emojis to suit their individual needs will mean these little icons break free of the currently used Fitzpatrick scale – a 1975 tool that classifies skin tone based on tolerance to sunlight, and is, frankly, outdated.
Emoji editing goes further, writes Friedman: "Culture, religion, sexual orientation, politics, food – nobody knows your contexts and realities better than you and given how important emoji are in the realm of digital expression, we wanted to make them widely available for use."
Now my concern: good things are always subverted. How long will it be before corners of the internet bend and break these emojis to create NSFW icons or nasty little emojis designed to offend. If the internet can come up with complex deepfakes of Tom Cruise doing mundane tasks, then breaking an emoji is child's play. Maybe it's just my paranoia, let's hope I'm wrong, and the world will soon be filled with diverse emojis that represent everyone.
The real issue with Microsoft's new open source of its emojis comes in the 'fine print' as *gulp* the editor won't include Clippy – I wish there was an emoji for how sad I feel right now. It seems even Microsoft has its limits. Of course, this is down to copyright and trademark issues and what Friedman labels "legal speak", and also includes "country flags, video game, and technologist emoji". But we can but hope, that one day Clippy will be ours to do with what we like.