RE: Emoji: emoticons vs. literacy

From: James Kass (
Date: Fri Jan 09 2009 - 08:30:31 CST

  • Next message: Adam Twardoch: "Re: Emoji: emoticons vs. literacy"

    RE: Emoji: emoticons vs. literacy

    Suppose for a moment that the Queen of Lemuria whipped
    up a pictographic writing system and bestowed it upon her
    people, and that the Lemurian empire isn't mythical, and that
    relics of that bygone age survived into modern times.

    This pictographic writing system consisted of stylized forms
    which were brightly multicolored by the happy-go-lucky
    Lemurians (little did they know). Even though these people
    enjoyed the colorful aspect of their writing, the symbols
    themselves, stripped of their colors, were meaningful.

    These citizens made up a new word for their writing system,
    the notion that neologisms are symptomatic of psychopathology
    notwithstanding. They called the individual characters in their
    writing system "icons". Examples of the writing turn up from
    time-to-time and are studied.

    In modern times, there are 162 scholars world-wide studying
    these Lemurian pictograms, although one of them is feeling
    poorly. These scholars exchange data speculating about the
    nuances of certain symbols. Some scholars make information
    available on the web.

    Leaving mythical realms, would that sort of thing be encodable
    as computer plain-text?  I'd say yes.  There's the universality 
    thing, the fact that it's a bona-fide writing system, and the
    idea that black-and-white rendering doesn't alter the identity
    or nature of the character.  Of course, nobody would suggest 
    that any of the individual icons should be unified with 
    look-alike pre-existing characters scattered throughout the 
    standard, though, would they?  After all, they're part of a set, 
    and nobody likes to break up a set.
    Since establishing that emoji are (or are in the process of 
    becoming) a new style of pictographic writing would tend to lend
    credibility to a proposal, we might presume that this is not the 
    case.  Otherwise, emoji proponents would raise the issue and
    provide supporting evidence, wouldn't they?
    So, questions about whether these icons are being used more as
    graphic embellishment (ornaments) to text, or are being used
    in rebus are disregarded by emoji proponents, neither outcome
    being likely to lend credibility to a plain-text proposal.
    Instead, we are all asked to consider pragmatic interoperability
    requirements.  Opponents reply that, even granting such
    requirements, the solution is beyond the realm of plain-text.
    It is even inappropriate, opponents might say, to unify graphic
    icons with their respective underlying textual symbols, if any.
    After all, these emoji are part of a set.  Many users exchanging 
    them probably expect to see exactly what they send wherever
    they view them, no matter the application, no matter the platform.
    So, the opponents say, let 'em use rich-text.
    The proponents reply that it doesn't matter where your principles
    stand, these icons must be encoded in the plain-text standard because
    vendors in Japan are exchanging them via PUA characters hacking
    plain-text protocols.  The opponents say that the very fact that
    it's a hack lends credence to the idea that these icons are not textual 
    in nature.  The proponents remind us of pragmatic interoperability 
    and advise everybody to get over it.  Proponents say that we must 
    have them in Unicode, opponents say why not just stick them up
    in one of the higher PUA planes and be done with it.  
    Is that as dumb as it sounds?  It's my understanding that Google 
    already handles some emoji using PUA characters.  If Google has
    code and charts, perhaps Google could undertake an ad-hoc PUA
    registry along the lines of ConScript Unicode Registry, using
    one of the higher PUA planes.  This would keep the icons together
    as a set and allow for future expansion.  "Hacking" plain-text
    protocols would continue, but nobody cares what you do in the PUA.
    Unicode could place a note into the Standard explaining that such
    and such PUA plane is generally regarded as a corporate private
    use graphic symbol registry and be done with it.  People who
    want to see multicolored blobs transformed into black-and-white
    ones in their text applications could do so, and people wanting
    to see the actual multicolored icons could continue using higher
    level protocols to do so.
    How much actual interchange is being done using the PUA planes?
    I don't have the resources to find out, but I'll bet it's mighty lean.
    Of course, unscrupulous types might do things which conflict
    with a high plane PUA, there's nothing stopping them.  Just like
    there's nothing stopping a designer making an 8-bit "hack" font
    and putting logos and icons in slots reserved for ASCII.
    With the dearth of any other higher plane PUA usage, an 
    application encountering such characters would have a fairly 
    good clue as to how to process/interpret the strings.
    The PUA is a good place for a de-facto standard.  Google has
    an interest in interoperability and has already done much of
    the work.
    Best regards,
    James Kass
    P.S. - Much of the above was probably cobbled together from posts
    by many people on more than one list.  I don't claim authorship for
    any of it unless there are royalties involved beyond the Queen of

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