The First Smiley :-)

The smiley :-) and its many variants are an important (and fun!) part of the worldwide online social culture -- allowing emotions to be conveyed in plain text.  It has been in widespread use since the early '80s, when it was first proposed.  Yet the original message in which the smiley was invented had been lost -- until now. :-)  After a significant effort to locate it, on September 10, 2002 the original post made by Scott Fahlman on CMU CS general bboard was retrieved by Jeff Baird from an October 1982 backup tape of the spice vax (cmu-750x).  Here is Scott's original post:

19-Sep-82 11:44    Scott E  Fahlman             :-)
From: Scott E  Fahlman <Fahlman at Cmu-20c>

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:


Read it sideways.  Actually, it is probably more economical to mark
things that are NOT jokes, given current trends.  For this, use


To see the post in context you can read the "joke" thread on the bboard that led to the invention of the smiley.  For even more context you can view the full contents of the bboard from the October 1982 spice vax backup tape.  Also, see Scott's page about the smiley.

Credits:  Many people were involved in this computing archaeology success story.  I (Mike Jones) kicked off the effort in February 2002 by looking through some old bboard program (Bags) sources, figuring out the filename that the post would likely be found under (/usr/cmu/lib/bb/, and asking Howard Wactlar, the former CMU SCS facilities director, whether the file could still be restored.  Scott Fahlman provided data narrowing the probable span of time during which the post was made.  Howard and Bob Cosgrove, the current director, determined that backup tapes from that period (1981-1983) still existed and asked Jeff Baird of the facilities staff to try to find and restore the post.  Dave Livingston of facilities located a working 9-track tape drive and a machine to use it on. Kirk Berthold and Michael Riley in CS operations managed retrieving tapes from off-site archival storage.  Grad student Dan Pelleg's FreeBSD machine was used to read the 4.1BSD dump format tapes using a compatibility mode in the restore program. (Later in the effort a NetBSD machine was used to do the same thing.)  Dale Moore looked for the post on Tops-20 backup tapes from CMU-20C.  But by all accounts, Jeff Baird should get most of the credit for doing the hard work of locating and retrieving the data.  He kept asking for more tapes, reading those that could still be read, narrowing the date range, and sticking with it until the post was found.  Thanks all for your efforts to restore this part of computing history, and especially, thanks Jeff!

-- Mike Jones (who worked at CMU when the post was made and remembers thinking when he read it "what a good idea!")
September 12, 2002

Here's some of the press coverage that this computing archaeology success generated.

For more bboard history, see the full contents of the bboard from the 1982 year-end g vax (cmu-780g) backup tape, which spanned the dates 25-Nov-82 to 31-Dec-82, including a thread about changing the Arpanet protocol over from NCP to TCP/IP.