From: Kenneth Whistler (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Tue Jul 25 2006 - 11:47:04 CDT
> After incorporating some hints from the discussion, now the second
> draft of my proposal to encode an EXTERNAL LINK INDICATOR symbol
> is found at:
> The main changes:
> Name of the proposed symbol changed from EXTERNAL LINK.
> Bidi_mirrored property proposed to be "yes".
As long as you are actively updating the proposal based on
feedback from this discussion, I have several more suggestions
1. Some of the respondents in this thread have given links to
sites using rather different glyphs for this same function.
The proposal should acknowledge that and give graphic examples
of such. It should make the case that those are (or are not)
examples of the same *character* displayed with a different
glyph. This speaks to the issue of exactly what is being
proposed for encoding here.
2. The proposed name EXTERNAL LINK INDICATOR is, IMO, a marginal
improvement over just EXTERNAL LINK, but is still rather too
close to suggesting a control function to me, rather than
a name for a graphic symbol of a particular shape. The
name precedents involving "INDICATOR" in the standard are:
00AA;FEMININE ORDINAL INDICATOR;Ll;0;L;<super> 0061;;;;N;;;;;
00BA;MASCULINE ORDINAL INDICATOR;Ll;0;L;<super> 006F;;;;N;;;;;
303E;IDEOGRAPHIC VARIATION INDICATOR;So;0;ON;;;;;N;;;;;
None of these are control functions per se, so that is good.
However, in each instance, the name itself is suggesting the
particular function that is the primary use of the character
If EXTERNAL LINK INDICATOR is adopted as the name of this
symbol to be encoded, its net effect will be to suggest to
people that its usage is constrained to that function, as
one expects for the POSITION INDICATOR or the IDEOGRAPHIC
VARIATION INDICATOR, in particular -- rather than being a
generic graphic symbol which happens to be the right shape
to represent the box with an arrow pointing out, which various
websites are now using to indicate that a link is to an
That appears to be the intent of the proposal, but I'm pointing
out that that will be questioned in review by the committees.
3. The change to make this Bidi_Mirrored=Y will provoke another
fight, particularly in the absence of any evidence of actual
usage of a mirrored glyph in a right-to-left web context
as yet. This proposed character is not paired punctuation
nor a math operator, which are the types of characters currently
covered by Bidi_Mirrored. Suggesting that it should be
Bidi_Mirrored, simply because one assumes it would be
glyphically mirrored in a right-to-left display, opens a
can of worms about any other such symbols which might not be
symmetric around a vertical axis, but which are not in the
classes of characters currently involved with the Bidi_Mirrored
4. I share Jukka's concern that this proposal is premature, and
should await further consensus emerging from the more
appropriate forum -- namely W3C -- regarding the formalization
of the convention of usage and of the icon for its display,
*before* the Unicode Consortium steps in to determine appropriateness
for encoding as a *character*.
What is clear to me is that there is a sememe here (the shared
semantic of indicating the status of a link a pointing to
an "external" site, meaning not managed here and with no
guarantee as to content or stability or copyright status, etc.).
It is also clear that there is an icon here (or possibly several
related icons), based on the graphical concept of an arrow
pointing outside of "the box".
It is also quite clear to me, based on the discussion, that
there will be a continuing, and probably justified clamor to
encode a graphical symbol (or perhaps a whole set of them)
shaped like a square box with an arrow pointing out of it
(possibly in more than one direction and style) -- since people
are writing text with such doohickies and don't have any
appropriate Unicode character(s) to represent such a symbol.
What *isn't* clear to me yet, and which I think the proposal
ducks in detail, is the justification for encoding an
EXTERNAL LINK INDICATOR as a character.
5. Confusion of icon standardization, character standardization,
and glyph standardization.
The proposal states now:
"As there exists no standardized character now, site authors use
to create a little graphic which they can use for the external
link symbol throughout their site. The existence of a standardized
character as proposed would free the site authors from having to
reinvent the wheel for that purpose."
I find this the heart of the motivation of the document, and
correspondingly problematical. To be convincing, it really needs
to be elaborated and reanalyzed, to pick apart *what* needs
to be standardized and how, and whose needs would be met in
I contend that site authors need a standardized *icon* to
represent this semantic function on their sites. The point of
standardizing it -- as for restroom signs, traffic signs, or
whatever -- is so you will get universal, quick recognition
of its meaning by all users of your site (and by transference,
all users of all other sites using the same conventions).
Within that context, it isn't clear yet whether a standardized
*character* is needed or is helpful. In part this is because
the icon and its usage have been invented and are being used
and refined, regardless of its non-existence as a character.
As Jukka pointed out, encoding a character doesn't automatically
make that character the thing that people *would* use to
indicate the function on websites, because characters behave
differently from icons used as graphics.
Furthermore, making it a character puts the rendering at the
mercy of its availability in fonts, and opens the question of
the design of the glyphs in different fonts, even if available.
A site which is standardized on a particular shape of the icon
may well stick to that *despite* the availability of such a
character in fonts, simply because that would impact the
look and feel of the site as designed.
And if the Unicode Standard were then to pick a *particular*
glyph and try to standardize *that* as the obligatory display
of the character, it would be suborning the purpose of
the standard a little further. The Unicode Standard is already
widely misunderstood as a glyph standard, and this would nudge
it a little further in that direction.
To sum up: if web site designers need help in standardizing
their usage, that need should be approached as an exercise
in standardizing an *icon*. I do not like the approach of
using the Unicode Standard as a means of accomplishing that
by encoding a character, attempting to standardize the
glyph for its display, and then pointing to the Unicode
Standard as having a character in it which resolves the problem
of icon design for web designers.
At any rate, be forewarned that such concerns will be taken
up by the committees in discussing this proposal, when submitted.
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