Contact Information

2008 Winners

Smiley Award 2008
Jennifer Gooch
Turadg Aleahmad

"One Cold Hand?"
A Site for the Collection and Reunion of Pittsburgh's Dropped Gloves

Honorable Mentions 2008
Ashwin Bharambe
Amit Manjhi
Shashank Pandit

A Money-Tracking website that helps roommates, friends...share expenses and settle debts
Ian Li
A website that allows users to record and visualize their moods and share them with friends and family

See Photos

2008 Corporate Sponsor
2008 Prize
2009 Judges
Scott Fahlman (LTI & CSD)

Faculty Judges:
Howie Choset (Robotics)
Jodi Forlizzi (HCII & Design)
Golan Levin (Fine Arts)
Daniel Sleator (CSD)
Luis von Ahn (CSD)

Student Judges:
Andrew Ko (HCII)
Benjamin Lambert (LTI)
Daniel Lee (CSD)
Mary McGlohon (MLD)
Bilge Multu (HCII


On September 19, 1982, Scott E. Fahlman, then and now a faculty member in the Computer Science Department of Carnegie Mellon University, posted a message on the department's online bulletin-board system proposing that we use :-) as a symbol for "I'm just kidding" and :-( as a symbol for "This is serious". The idea caught on and soon was in common use at Carnegie Mellon and a few other research universities. Then, as the internet spread around the world and eventually into our living rooms, the smiley spread along with it. Love them or hate them, the smiley and the other "emoticons" that it inspired have become a ubiquitous feature of online communication.

In celebration of this pivotal event in the history of human communication [1], the Department of Computer Science of Carnegie Mellon University has established an annual Smiley Award for innovation in technology-assisted person-to-person communication.

The Smiley Award competition is open to graduate or undergraduate students from any part of Carnegie Mellon, or to small teams of students. The winning entry will receive a $500 cash prize, generously provided by our corporate sponsor, Yahoo! Incorporated. In addition, each winner will receive a framed Smiley Award certificate and eternal bragging rights. The names of the annual winners will be engraved on a plaque on permanent display in the Computer Science Department.

Selection Criteria

The Smiley Award is aimed at recognizing clever, perhaps small or “bootleg” contributions, in the spirit of the original smiley symbol. The award is not meant to recognize the products of large funded research projects – such things are amply rewarded in other ways.

Choosing a winner each year is necessarily a subjective process. We have assembled a distinguished (but not /too/ distinguished) panel of students and faculty to serve as judges – people who, in the opinion of the contest organizers, demonstrate the right kind of “out of the box” thinking. In addition to picking the contest winner, the judges will have the final say on interpretation of the rules, and they may decide to modify the contest rules and procedures for future years. Judges may not compete in the contest.

There are three primary criteria for a winning entry:

  • Effectiveness: How effective is the work in using technology (in some way) to promote more and better person-to-person communication? There are many ways in which a work could be effective, ranging from serving as an actual communication channel or language to just breaking the ice.
  • Creativity: Is the idea new and exciting, or perhaps an old idea that is packaged and presented in a clever way?
  • Fun: Is this thing fun for participants, onlookers, and maybe just for people who hear about the idea? Some degree of humor, whimsy, or outright weirdness is strongly encouraged.

A winning entry may be strong on some of these criteria and weak on others, but we hope to see entries that are strong in all three. Extra credit will be awarded for the following:

  • Leverage: Other things being equal, we will favor small ideas that have big effects.
  • Deployment: Is the thing actually in use and being enjoyed by people other than its creators? The more, the better.
  • Buzz: Is this thing understandable to the public? Does it capture people’s imagination and produce (favorable) press coverage for our university and our field?

The work must have been fully disclosed to the public, and must be usable by the public in some form, at the time of the nomination. However, the nominees may retain intellectual property rights to the work.

Individual nominees and, in the case of teams, all members of the team, must be Carnegie Mellon students or recent graduates (within the past two years).

Both undergraduate and graduate students are eligible, as well as students on leave of absence at the time of the nomination.

If a faculty member or some other non-student was involved in some way, all participants must agree that the student nominees were primarily responsible for conceiving and developing the work.

The bulk of the development for the nominated work must have taken place during the nominees' time as a student here, and not more than four years prior to the nomination date. We want to recognize recent work.

Nominations Process and Deadline

To be eligible for the Smiley Award, a work must be nominated. Each nomination requires a description, in Word or .pdf format, of no more than three pages. It should describe the work, list the authors, and state when the work was conceived, developed, and released. Self-nominations are allowed.

Additional information -- demos, videos, testimonials, etc -- can be placed on a web site, and, where appropriate, the judges may ask to see a live demonstration of the work in action. However, the nomination document should make the case by itself; the judges are not obliged to consider the other materials, especially in the preliminary rounds of screening.

Nominations for the second annual Smiley Award are open through January 31, 2009, and the award will be announced around the end of February, 2009.

Nominations should be sent by Email to Questions or comments may be sent to the same address.


In order to give potential applicants some idea of what the judges are looking for, we include here some historical examples of works that would have been strong contenders for a Smiley Award – if they had been created by students (as some of them were) and in the proper time-frame.

  • The original creation of Email, text messaging, newsgroups, and chat rooms. These were revolutionary developments in technology-assisted person-to-person communication.
  • Also important were many small innovations that make these online media easier or more fun to use: for example, threaded Email, spam filters, clever ways of entering text on a phone's keypad, and – yes – the first emoticons.
  • Social web sites of all kinds, and small innovations that make these safer, more fun, or more interesting. This category would include blogs and multi-media information-sharing services such as Flickr.
  • The creation of multi-person online games and simulations – especially those that allow the participants to chat and that give them some common goal to talk about. More recent developments include the development of customized avatars and user-built extensions to the simulated environment. But small, simple games – something a student might create as a term project – can also be very compelling. An example would be "acrobot" – a text-based game in which participants make up funny expansions for an acronym, and the funniest is chosen by a vote of the other participants.
  • Interactive art, whether online or embodied in some environment, device, or toy. This would be especially appropriate for a Smiley Award if it involves multiple participants who must collaborate to produce some interesting result. Also of interest would be some sort of toolkit that allows users to easily generate new interactive artistic experiences that they can share with others.

These are just examples. We hope to see some ideas that blaze new trails and that create categories of their own.

[1] "Pivotal" in the sense of turning your head sideways.