Back in the day, when flecks of ink and the depth to which the nib sank into the paper could signal a writer's emotional state to an attentive reader, perhaps the exclamation point was used more discriminatingly. Now that typescript has replaced handscript as the standard mode of written communication, emotional subtext requires either punctuation or a willingness on the part of writer — and reader — to engage with a vocabulary that's more nuanced. It seems easier to agree that ;) means a wink than to wonder precisely how I'm wielding a word. Are the overtones in that one word email "Brilliant!" enthusiastic, sarcastic, ironic, delighted? and what if it reads "BRILLIANT!"
Teh interwebs have brought us emoticons as a solution to the problem of a paucity of punctuation with which to close sentences: . ! and ? cover a wide range, but with no subtlety. My rummaging in the archives of 19th century chemical literature suggests, however, we don't so much invent, as rediscover (my apologies to Rodin). Over the years quite a few non-standard punctuation marks that have served the same function as emoticons have come and gone. Perhaps some of these might be resurrected for more formal electronic communications?
Want to indicate a touch of irony or sarcasm? Try the precontation point: "Brilliant⸮" (dates to the 16th century, therefore roughly the same age as the exclamation point) or the interrobang: "Brilliant‽" (from the early 20th century, sometimes rendered: "Brilliant?!")
I'd like to propose a way to deal more elegantly — or at least more compactly — with the proliferation of exclamation points: n! Thus we would have "Brilliant4!" instead of "Brilliant!!!!" I think the former expresses a more stately sort of enthusiasm, something a 50-something mother could use without looking like a middle schooler.
What do you think? How sparingly do you punctuate electronic communication?