|emoji: (Photo credit: luxuryluke)|
There are emojis for ice cream, puppies, cars, pizza and sushi, but not for the all-American hot dog. (click below to read more)
"People are demanding a hot-dog emoji," said the third-generation general manager of Superdawg Drive-In, which has been serving up hot dogs since 1948. "It's a slight against the hot-dog community."
Emoji symbols, which began with Japanese mobile phones and spread to smartphones in recent years, have become a lingua franca for certain users of texting and social media. Emojis allow people to punctuate their texts with hundreds of colorful images ranging from a skyscraper to a martini glass to a pig's snout.
The White House's @WhiteHouse uses them on Twitter. TWTR +2.12% The tweet "Wheels up to Mexico for the North American Leaders Summit" last month included three airplane symbols alongside a picture of Air Force One.
"Emoji Dick," an approximately 800-page translation of "Moby-Dick" into emoji symbols, was added to the U.S. Library of Congress last year. The colorful book features a blue whale standing in for the great white whale and an assortment of faces, animals and symbols standing in for Captain Ahab at various points.
Emoji, the cute, quirky pictures that show up in texts, began years ago on Japanese mobile phones. Here's how to get them on your smartphone.
The Emoji Art and Design Show in New York City in December included about 30 original pieces of art dedicated to the "emoji zeitgeist." Among the highlights: "emojitracker.com," a website that catalogs the most popular emojis being used on Twitter, an installation called "The Garden of Emoji Delights," and "Emoji Wallpaper," a vinyl wall covering.
Now, Ms. Ustick and others are lobbying for new characters and descending into the Byzantine world of a new language with multiple gatekeepers and no clear rules of entry for the casual user.
"When we want to write something cute on Twitter, it's just not there," Ms. Ustick lamented, sitting in a small office in the restaurant where visitors are greeted by a mock-up of her proposed hot-dog emoji.
Other fans are pushing for symbols like cupcakes, bacon and unicorns. That's not to mention the Facebook FB -1.57% page dedicated to the proposition: "The Universe Demands a Taco Emoji."
But there seems to be a lot of confusion about just how to get the word out about these requests.
Ms. Ustick, for instance, is pursuing her hot-dog quest in a somewhat circuitous fashion, with a petition addressed to President Barack Obama and Shigetaka Kurita, a Japanese creator of early emojis. So far, she has secured nearly 300 signatures and set her hopes on "the power of the masses."
Besides her petition, she says she spends about five hours a day on social media, plugging the hashtag #HotDogEmoji on Twitter to food celebrities and posting memes like "May the #HotDogEmoji Be With You" on Facebook.
Even those deep in the emoji world, like Fred Benenson, a data engineer who compiled "Emoji Dick," are confused about the process of emoji-making. "I'm still a little hazy on who decides what and how it works," he said.
It turns out that emojis are largely controlled by a nonprofit group called the Unicode Consortium, which was formed by computer programmers in the 1980s to standardize coding so the various global languages can zip around the Internet without getting lost in translation.
Unicode decided to take on emojis after hiccups emerged in understanding Japanese emails loaded up with the symbols, says Mark Davis, co-founder of the consortium and a top software architect for Google Inc.
Mr. Davis says the consortium generally encodes symbols already in existence. So most emojis available today are from the original ones created in Japan.
"People say, 'You really should encode X because it'd be good,' " he said from his home in Zurich. "But we don't try to make original, new symbols…We look at what occurred in historical or modern times to decide whether or not something should be added to the standard." New symbols are added periodically.
"We're talking about the Internet here," Mr. Davis said. "The number of possible images is infinite."
Once Unicode greenlights an emoji, individual tech companies decide whether to include it in their operating systems, he says.
Last month, Unicode members gathered for one of their quarterly meetings over brownies in a Silicon Valley office of member International Business Machines Corp. IBM +0.33% , according to Mr. Davis. They discussed how to account for the fact that people want more emoji characters, particularly more diverse representations of people, an issue they're working on.
Laura Ustick has formed a group lobbying for a hot-dog emoji. Caroline Porter/The Wall Street Journal
DoSomething.org has an online petition titled: " Apple AAPL -0.11% : Add More Diversity to the Emoji Keyboard." The petition boasts about 4,000 signatures, seeking at least four faces with varying skin tones. The group plans to present its petition to Apple Inc. once it has reached 10,000 signatures.
An Apple spokeswoman said, "There needs to be more diversity in the emoji character set and we have been working closely with the Unicode Consortium in an effort to update the standard."
The emoji subcommittee hasn't seen a proposal yet for a hot-dog emoji, but Mr. Davis thinks it would be a long shot. The symbol, he adds, is a tad high-maintenance. "The problem with the hot-dog emoji is, what do you then want with the hot dog? Would we do one with ketchup or without?"
"It kind of hurts your feelings that the hot-dog emoji is not here," said Tika Johnson, a 35-year-old Chicago native, who said she uses emojis constantly. "You cannot have a real text without emoji," she said.
"A hot-dog emoji would stand for so much more than one word," said Paul May, a 45-year-old video editor who has done work for the restaurant, which catered his son's wedding. "It basically would denote something that is inherently good."
One person who understands the hunger for the symbol: Mr. Kurita, the Japanese emoji pioneer. "In Japan, we have onigiri [rice ball] emoji, so why not hot dogs?" he asked. "Hot dogs are onigiri for Americans, right?"