Bitmoji: Breathing New Life Into SMS

Technology is providing new ways for normal people to express the depth of emotions, intricacy of ideas, and complexity of concepts missing from written communication.  Where words are not enough, people seek alternate methods to share emotions.  Sometimes word-replacements are just downright funny.

People create deeper meaning through visual interactions.  Muslims place their hand over their heart when greeting people, a smile while passing on the street conveys a non-threatening message, and 1.2 billion people effectively use the Indian head bobble.  Since my head bobble looks like an epileptic seizure—this despite watching a dozen YouTube videos and practicing for tens of minutes in front of a mirror—I resort to photographs and drawings to enhance the articles and blog posts both published and rejected.  Where words leave off, Bitmoji steps in.

Bitmoji App
Bitmoji is changing how we communicate. (Image courtesy of Bitstrips, Inc.)

Bitmoji, an app by Bitstrips, Inc., allows users to create a personal emoji or avatar for use across both mobile and personal computing platforms.  Once the Bitmoji image is created, users can use it to text with friends, enhancing the communication process with personalized likenesses.  Bitmoji’s look eerily like their human creators.

Fast Company reported that Jacob Blackstock, the CEO of Bitmoji and a lifelong artist, created a process by which the user “selects a face shape, skin tone, hair color, length, type, style, jaw shape, eyebrows, a mouth and so on…you can go back and tweak the nose or face details (or whatever) to get closer to perfection.”  This process and Blackstock’s discovery that the range of human emotions can be defined within a few face shapes makes for an uncanny user-to-Bitmoji resemblance.

My better half, Jeannette, and our son’s better half, Rowan, adopted Bitmoji a couple months ago and their conversations have taken on new life.  Rowan, Queen of the SMS, is able to tap out messages on her iPhone faster than most people speak.  Now she says in one or two Bitmoji images what used to take paragraphs.  Jeannette, who will never be confused with an SMS Master, uses Bitmoji to express herself as well—for the first time she is able to keep up with Rowan in conversations.  Together, they generate expressive representations of a variety of emotions in seconds.

Bitmoji Conversation
Emotions are sometimes better communicated through pictures.

We shouldn’t be surprised to see images enhancing text and in some cases replacing it altogether. The first alphabet wasn’t created by the Egyptians until some time around the end of the fourth millennium B.C.   Prior to that, pictures and pictographs were the primary means of communicating ideas sans speech.  The Bitmoji phenomenon is simply history repeating itself—bringing the image back into the forefront of communication.

Dogs
Dogs are better at reading human expressions than most humans.

There is other evidence of imageries ability to effectively communicate information.  Dogs, (hu)man’s best friend, are able to discern feelings from body language and facial expressions; people recognize some traffic symbols as universal; and when conveying feelings or attitudes in a face-to-face setting, body language can account for 55% of the overall message.  It is in this last point that Bitmoji excels.

Bitmoji recognizes that much of SMS (Short Message Service, commonly referred to as texting) is expressing feelings.  Users dress, pose, and insert their avatars into predefined scenes to add depth to emotional responses.  But Bitmoji goes beyond simple settings, it gives users the ability to change over time.  Bitmoji’s algorithm enhances the experience for both the sender and the receiver.

Bitmoji developers also understand—either consciously or unconsciously—some fundamental rules about learning.  As a instructor at a US government training academy, we drummed into our students the different types of learners: auditory, visual, and kinetic.  Students were taught to use techniques to present material in multiple formats using words, images, and experiences in order to maximize learning.  Bitmoji’s format uses two of those three essential ingredients to enhance retention.

What does this heightened user experience look like?  Here is a series of images Jeannette used over the last two months.  Notice the variety of emotions and physical characteristics.

Bitmoji Jen
Users can change their clothes, expressions, and scenes to accurately represent how they feel.

There are concerns with the App.  While installing it on iOS, it will ask for full access to your keyboard, resulting in a pop-up warning from Apple.  As a cybersecurity professional, that is more than a little disconcerting; however, the company also advises that at “no time are we reading, transmitting or storing anything you type.”  A May 2016 article on Motherboard noted, “Some keyboard apps, such as the Bitmoji Keyboard, don’t do much with your data beyond anonymizing it and using it to improve the product. This means that the experts at Bitmoji analyze the data of their users in bulk and then use that information to create new features or fix any issues that users may be encountering.”  In the end, to use the App or not is a matter of personal comfort.

As a non-Bitmoji user, I still enjoy the group conversations on which I’m included.  I watched over the last two months as Jeannette and Rowan changed clothes, hats, facial expressions, and scenes in order to add value to their communication.  It’s become a persistent form of entertainment for me and a great way for Jeannette and Rowan to reinforce thoughts, convey feelings, and intensify ideas.


This is a personal review of Bitmoji.  I was not paid for this article—believe me, I wish I was.

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Unless otherwise noted, all photos and drawings are those of the author.  Copyright can be found here.

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