See if I can answer the first two of your questions:
1. No benefit of any kind to the poster except that if it gets enough "votes", the topic may wind up in the right hand column under "top" or "liked" - I believe it is to mimic Facebook; you simply indicate that you liked the answer. I've decided to ignore it because I don't care for popularity contest - but that is my personal opinion.
2. If you want to insert an emoticon, click on the one of your choice and it should show up pretty much instantaneously.
Thank you for so rapid a response. … Excellent; I simply had to check out the emoticons system before I marked your post helpful Very odd; initially, I tried to activate them that way and they didn't work.
I accept your thoughts on the likes; as you say, it can be a personal thing but I tend to see it as showing appreciation of someones time and effort to be helpful, whether or not the reply meets the need of the questioner. All the same, good to learn of the thinking behind the move.
Regarding the search box, the initial search does indeed treat everything as if it was in one big pot. It is more work than perhaps is necessary, but once the search result screen appears you will get a "More options" item appearing just below the search term you used, & clicking on it reveals an option to "Restrict to a Community, Project or Group."
Start typing in it & will offer you choices. For instance, type "Support" & it will suggest "Apple Support Communities." Choose that & your search should be limited to that community.
You can also click the "Search Tips" item to get a page describing various ways to format your search query for best results.
However, don't set your hopes too high. I entered the text "how do you use the emoticons" from your initial post in the search box, added quotes around it to limit it to that exact phrase, & then limited the search to "Apple Support Communities." Not only did it not find your post, one of the two posts it did find was not even in Apple Support Communities.
Perhaps the search feature will work better in the future, but for now you are probably better off using Google.
Hello R C-R,
Big thank you for your advice. You went to a lot of trouble. I've now done a quick search or two successfully. I have to say that Apple does tend to assume that we all know what they have in mind when they introduce new ideas … but once you get to grips with the new communities, in my view it's
a vast improvement. I especially like the bolder, clearly printed posts which need no magnification for
someone like me with less than perfect eyesight.