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Basic Questions About Unicode®

1. What is Unicode?

It can be used informally to refer to:

  • The Unicode Standard, the encoding standard for characters.
  • The Unicode Consortium, the organization that created the Unicode Standard, and other standards and data used by modern computer systems and applications.

For more, see What is Unicode?

2. Put simply, is Unicode the system that allows one device to recognize another?

More accurate would be to say that Unicode characters allow all devices (laptops, smartphones, tablets, cloud computers) to share or exchange text that is written in any language or with symbols.

3. Is it fair to say that Unicode is the reason a text you send from your iPhone is legible to someone with an Android or Windows phone, and vice versa?

Yes, exactly.

4. How many members are in the Consortium?

The complete list is on unicode.org/consortium/memblogo.html. There are different kinds of membership: some are individuals, and others are corporate, governmental, or organizational entities. The latter have, of course, individuals representing them at the meetings.

5. Can you explain the Consortium’s job in layman’s terms?

We provide the infrastructure for all the text on the internet and all your devices. The first part of this is providing a number for each character used in text. The Unicode Standard is the dictionary of these numbers. For more background, see Unicode: A Sea Change.

The second part is helping devices deal with all the languages of the world. For this the Unicode Consortium keeps a large database of terminology and formats for different languages and countries (cldr.unicode.org). For more information, see The Work of the Consortium.

6. What have people said about Unicode?

See Quotations.

7. How does the Consortium operate?

The Unicode Consortium is a non-profit organization with a very small staff devoted to operations. The majority of the Consortium's technical work consists of contributions from the membership. For general background, see The Unicode Consortium.

8. What is the Consortium's mission statement?

The Unicode Consortium enables people around the world to use computers in any language. Our freely-available specifications and data form the foundation for software internationalization in all major operating systems, search engines, applications, and the World Wide Web. An essential part of our mission is to educate and engage academic and scientific communities, and the general public.

9. Do you think the Unicode Consortium will achieve its goal of implementing the Unicode Standard globally?

That's already been done. Every key that you type on your phone or laptop produces a Unicode character; every character that you read on a screen is a Unicode character.

Text on websites is converted into Unicode for processing, although a large majority is already Unicode on the web. From a couple of years ago: unicode-over-60-percent-of-web More recently: http://w3techs.com/technologies/details/en-utf8/all/all.

10. Why did the Consortium start?

When the Consortium began (back in 1991) the interchange of text between computers and programs was error-prone, complex, and at times impossible. There were different representations for letters and symbols, even for the same language. These representations were often mutually incompatible: users would often see random incorrect characters on their screens. Languages for a large percentage of the globe could not be represented on computers.

The Consortium was founded to solve this problem: to provide a single, consistent way to represent each letter and symbol needed for all human languages across all computers and devices. This was the Unicode Standard. See also What Is Unicode?

11. What other major projects does the Consortium have?

2003 saw the first release of the Unicode Locales project (CLDR). Its goal is to provide the foundation for supporting different languages, with the core data needed for language-specific services including (but not limited to) formatting dates, times, time zones, numbers, and currencies; sorting any text; and handling plurals. See CLDR Project.

12. How important are emoji to the work of the Consortium?

Emoji are only a small part of what the Consortium deals with. By their nature, emoji have enjoyed an outsized share of public attention. But to give some perspective, there are 1,281 emoji in Unicode 8.0, out of a total of over 120,000 characters. Every application makes use of Unicode for all text, not just emoji. Even though people might not realize it, they see the benefits of the Consortium's work when websites, programs, and documents start to support their language or the symbols they need, or when their language gets better layout, search or sort behavior, formatting, and so on. See also Press: Emoji.

13. What was the Consortium’s greatest challenge when it began?

The greatest challenge was to get a critical mass of IT companies to use Unicode. That challenge has been successfully met. Almost all of the text on the web and in modern computer systems and applications is in Unicode. On literally billions of devices, every day, every keystroke is using Unicode; every character read is in Unicode; every date or number is displayed with CLDR data; every sorted list is using CLDR data.

14. What work remains for the Consortium?

There is continued growth in both breadth and depth. For example, the languages and locales work (CLDR) is expanding to include more languages, and to extend the support to more feature of languages. New characters are continually being added to the Unicode Standard, including those for historic and minority languages, for new symbols (such as currencies), and thousands of additional Chinese and Japanese characters. A key part of the work is to provide and extend the information the Consortium provides for characters and languages.

15. Why is the information the Consortium provides for characters and languages important?

That information (data and algorithms) enables computer systems to handle core services for processing characters and languages. Applications take advantage of those services without having to keep track of endless details about specific characters, formatting, and other behavior for particular languages.

An application can check whether a character is a letter, rather than using a hard-coded list, like A-Z, and missing the over 100,000 letters that count as letters. An application can handle a date correctly, without needing to know how to deal with the differences between Japanese, Arabic, and German dates. An application can depend on the services to break text into lines without having to know all the complicated relations among characters from different languages. A program can sort text easily, without having to know all the details—that ä < b in German, but ä > z in Swedish.

16. What is the Consortium’s current greatest challenge?

Because Unicode is so central to how computers and mobile devices use text and handle languages, it is essential to maintain backwards compatibility—while also meeting new requirements as computing systems become increasingly sophisticated.

17. Where is a boilerplate description of the Unicode Consortium for press releases?

See Boilerplate Description.

18. I'm particularly interested in emoji. Where can I find out more?

See Unicode Emoji, where you'll find the main document on emoji (UTR #51), plus charts, an FAQ, lists of media articles, and so on.​

19. Where can I find articles on Unicode?

See Articles on Unicode. See also a list of press articles about emoji.

20. Can members of the press attend technical committee meetings and/or record during the meeting?

A. No. As is normal practice in standards organizations, our technical committee meetings are not open to the media. For further information please see the Technical Committee Procedures.


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