Re: Proposal to encode an EXTERNAL LINK symbol in the BMP

From: Otto Stolz (
Date: Mon Jul 24 2006 - 10:35:36 CDT

  • Next message: Kenneth Whistler: "Re: New to Unicode"


    Jukka K. Korpela wrote,
    > The description of existing practices shows that some web authors use
    > images of a certain type to mark external links as external. This does not
    > demonstrate existing usage of a _character_,

    They really cannot use a character, as long as there is not a suitable
    one available.

    > since authors use rather varying designs.

    Yet, there is a lot of evidence of an evolving convergence
    towards a rectangle with an arrow pointing outward from it,
    as outlined by Karl Pentzlin.

    > Sites that wish
    > to continue such practices will hardly be interested in using any
    > "standard character" as a marker, especially since the font support to the
    > character will be virtually nonexistent for a fairly long time. (What
    > matters is support in fonts that web users have in their computers, and
    > such things change slowly, even if good fonts were available for free.)

    The only way to get this character (or symbol) into common fonts
    is by assigning a Unicode value to it. Note that using a PUA character
    would be unwise for a WWW designer striving for a large audience.

    > The most important question, however, seems to be whether it is even
    > desirable to have the internal vs. external distinction to be made at the
    > document level, and specifically at the character level within a document.

    Wherever the distinction is made, a character would come handy to
    convey it to the user; e. g. a server-side script could easily insert
    that character based on whatever policy came to its author's mind.

    > The distinction, if relevant, is primarily a
    > metadata issue [...] This would leave it to user agents to
    > render the distinction in a manner suitable for a particular browsing
    > situation.

    To many WWW authors, this distinction is apparently important enough
    to be made in the document proper, e. g. for reasons of disclaiming,
    or acknowledging, authorship. Even if the distinction would be delegated
    to metadata, a browser could gain from the availability of a suitable
    character to render the distinction in particular browsing situations.

    > I think it basically belongs to the scope of the World Wide Web Consortium
    > to discuss whether a uniform, universal symbol is a desirable way to
    > indicate a link as external and whether the symbol should be part of a
    > document or part of a user agent's interface.

    Agreed. Who will bring their attention to this discussion?

    > If a character were defined, it would at most be used as _an_ external
    > link marker, rather than as _the_ marker.

    Of course, a WWW author could use a particular arrow, or some other
    character, for the same concept. So what? This is a situation that
    holds for many Unicode characters, alike. E. g., there is an "&"
    character, but you are free to use "and" in its stead, and some
    less well adviced authors would even use "+" for that concept.

    > there would be sufficient grounds for defining a
    > character _if_ a consistent usage and shape could be detected. However,
    > as I see it, this is a matter of varying usage of icon-like images as
    > external link markers, and defining a character shaped to match one of
    > the designs would not sound good.

    I think, Karl Pentzlin has nicely described the common design principle
    for many of these symbols. As usual, the Unicode reference glyph would
    be just an example of a whole class of equivalent designs, akin to
    the situation with the $ sign, that can have one or two vertical bars
    -- or even no vertical bar (just two points on top and on bottom) as on
    the pertinent cap of my keyboard.

    > If an image is used as an external
    > link marker, it can be printed too, and in formats like HTML, it can carry
    > an "alt" attribute that specifies the textual replacement.

    A character would better fit within its environment than an <img> ever
    can. For example, an <img> does not scale with the surrounding text;
    so I often experience tiny, barely recognizable, external-link symbols
    amidst text in a convenient size (because I have configured my browser
    to display it on *my* hardware, in a size convenient to *my* eyes).

    I like Karl's idea very much, and I hope it will be considered for
    inclusion in Unicode.

    Best wishes,
       Otto Stolz

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Mon Jul 24 2006 - 10:39:26 CDT