At the recent ODR Forum in Liverpool, one of the presentations that captured by interest was one by Juripax, on their ODR system which inter alia, used emoticons to convey emotions. As far as I know, Juripax is the only ODR system in the world today which uses emoticons (not just in the body text, but rendered as emoticons) in facilitating dispute resolution, and its UI makes definitely makes it one of the more user friendly ODR solutions currently available.
However, while acknowledging that emoticons and similar tools that are intended to facilitate communication are to be welcomed in ODR systems, a recent study points to the dangers of including them and assuming then that such tools will automatically augment communication between parties.
Emoticons carry cultural baggage, an article on Ars Technica, points to the following:
Emoticons act as proxies for facial expressions, and there are a lot of studies showing that many facial expressions can be interpreted correctly by all human cultures. Despite that universality, however, there are subtle differences in interpretations across cultures. The authors propose a model in which a culture’s interpretation of facial expressions is dependent upon a combination of the culture’s emotional openness and the challenge of controlling certain facial muscles. As they put it, “Given that the eyes are more difficult to control than the mouth when people express emotions, we predicted that individuals in cultures where emotional subduction is the norm (such as Japan) would focus more strongly on the eyes than the mouth when interpreting others’ emotions. By contrast, we predicted that people in cultures where overt emotional expression is the norm (such as the US) would tend to interpret emotions based on the position of the mouth, because it is the most expressive part of the face
Ironically, emoticons are generally used to attempt to convey emotions that may not be easy to express in pure text—these data suggest that they may not always be effective for their intended task. As with many of these situations, knowing your audience is probably more important than anything else.
Clearly a lesson here for the development of inter-cultural ODR platforms.
Read the full study here.