The unifying power of custom emojis

Ah, emojis. An incredibly useful remote communication tool. But – I’m pretty sure that system emojis are the perfect symbol for the age of hyper-corporatized Web 2.0:

✅ They’re made, owned, and distributed by mega corporationsAnd you can read my rant about it
✅ Businesses use them to seem ~relatable~
✅ For some reason you can buy stuffed versions at Walmart

You might’ve noticed I said system emojis, not all emojis ever. There’s a distinction, and as a complete amateur linguist, I think this distinction leads to some interesting iykyk consequences. This essay explores the hypothesis that the ability to use custom emojis in cozy web spaces leads to a greater sense of unity and group membership.

System emojis vs. custom emojis

System emojis are the emojis that come with your phone or your app (i.e. built into whichever system you happen to be using). Everyone has access to theseUnless you're a small web hipster who still runs Windows XP or browses on Waterfox. Which is actually kinda cool, btw. , and you can use them like you can any letter on your keyboard. (LPT: It’s not just your phone – you can do this on your laptop too. ctrl + . for Windows, cmd + ctrl + . for Mac.)

On the other hand, custom emojis are uploaded and controlled by users, and they’re typically only available in closed spaces where membership is limited – Slack and Discord being the most popular. There are a ton of websites that let you browse through giant repositories of custom emojis, and entire Discord servers dedicated to storing and creating access to custom emojis.

Custom emojis are peak cozy web

If system emojis are tainted almost unnoticeably by corporate capitalism, custom emojis bring back the full power of genuine self-expression to users. It allows users to choose the exact imagery to represent their emotional state, knowing full well that image will be preserved when seen by users on the other side of the screen. They’re not bound to the selection of 3,664 Unicode emoji, nor will the ~vibe~ of an emoji be interrupted by a change in system (think iOS to Android). The control is given back to the user.

// More coming soon...


  • Custom emoji within cozy web groups like Slack and Discord contribute to a sense of unity and group membership, resulting in tighter bonds between participants
    • Visual consistency across platforms contributes to this
  • Custom emoji as a unique linguistic tool that can only be used within smaller communities
    • Constraints and affordances of custom emoji, compared to normal emoji
    • Markers of group membership, in-joke understanding
  • If normal emoji are peak hyper-corporatized Web 2.0, custom emoji are peak domestic cozy web