I recently learned about kao thanks to shishka’s kao page. Kao is a term for cute emojis that originated on Japanese websites. I found there are several subsets, including kaoani, which are animated, and kaomoji or facemarks, which are text-based. World Two Dot Zero has written on emojis, including kao and kaoani. They note kaoani may also be referred to as puff, blob souls, anikao or emoticon souls.
I found a wonderful directory, Kawaii Sozai Web Graphics. It has an entire section on kaoani with examples of the kaoani, links to the original pages, and instructions on how to navigate the pages. There is a definitions page explaining the concept of “souzai,” or raw materials. The idea is a creator provides free materials, like kaoani, with the understanding the person who uses it will provide a link back to the creator’s site. As with many things gone viral however it can be hard to track down the original poster of any particular kaoani. These cute graphics quickly spread across websites, attribution is often not given, and unfortunately the creator gets lost in the shuffle.
I became very fond of the cactus kaoani and, in the spirit of souzai, wanted to locate the creator and give a link back, but this proved challenging. The style seemed closest to the kaoani on Ribonkko House, which now only exists in the Internet archives, but they do not appear to be the creator of the cactus style. There is no mention of the word cactus anywhere in the directory that I could find. I used different search engines but could never find an answer.
While I was looking for that I found The World of Kaoani, a large kaoani archive that is easy to navigate. It does not have attribution, but it does have just about every type of kaoani you can imagine. Another large archive is Canuck’s House of Kaoanis.
As an aside, it’s amazing how quickly text replicates on the internet. The vast majority of sources on kaoani are all the same Wikipedia text blurb (“…animated smilies that usually bounce…”). It’s challenging to find unique sources on the subject in English.