Demystifying the Politburo (was: Re: Arabic encoding model (alas, static!))

From: Kenneth Whistler (
Date: Thu Jul 07 2005 - 16:36:22 CDT

  • Next message: "Re: Demystifying the Politburo (was: Re: Arabic encoding model (alas, static!))"

    Gregg Reynolds asked:
    > I think the more interesting question is: what is the composition of
    > these mysterious bodies?

    These are public organizations... it isn't as if anyone is trying
    to hide memberships.

    > How many native speakers of ______ (fill in
    > your favorite language) are members? How many of them use the ____
    > language on a daily basis?

    For that, you'd have to follow the links into the individual
    national bodies for ISO and the various members' representatives
    for the UTC.

    For what it's worth, since this started out as a thread concerned
    with Arabic encoding, the longtime chair of SC2/WG2 is a native
    speaker of Arabic (and the current and prior chairs of SC2 itself
    are both native speakers of Japanese).

    > That statistic would be much more revealing
    > than which committee agreed with which, IMHO.
    > To me, at least, "UTC" and "WG3098098534543" seem to be very fearsome
    > creatures, not so different from the politburo. I'm not saying they
    > *are* like that. I guess I'm saying they have a PR problem.

    Perhaps -- but this is mostly because the character encoding
    issue touches on very emotional issues of language identity
    and linguistic politics.

    Funny that the Unicode Consortium's standard on regular expression
    syntax or the ISO standards on freight containers don't seem to
    draw the same kind of visceral responses and intimations of
    dark conspiracies, despite the fact that they are developed with
    more or less the same procedures as the Unicode Standard and
    ISO/IEC 10646.

    > More generally: how's about the Unicode Consortium, with it's unlimited
    > resources,

    *takes a moment to recover from snorting in his tea*

    The Unicode Consortium is associated with the names of a number
    of enormous corporations and other big organizations, but that
    is a *long* way from ensuring that it has "unlimited resources".

    The Unicode Consortium is a small non-profit supported almost entirely
    by membership dues:

    Cross-match that with:

    and you can get a pretty accurate notion of the total annual
    budget of the organization.

    The organization has 3 employees, listed as staff at:

    namely, one editor, one administrative director, and one
    software engineer. Those 3 people have to run the office,
    handle all inquiries, run the website and other machines
    (including dealing with security and spamming issues that
    among other things keep this discussion list functional
    instead of another magnet for spam), and deal with all
    the online and offline publications of the Consortium.

    You do the math.... in a typical year the non-profit may
    break even or (often) runs a deficit on the year.

    > creates an outreach program? Or maybe even an internship
    > program targeting minority language communities? Maybe it's been done.

    Great ideas require resourcing -- in time, money, and dedicated
    people who will follow up and make things happen. Start and
    maintain an organization to do such things -- that's how they

    Oh, and I'm not just waving that around as rhetorical noise.
    The Script Encoding Initiative at U.C. Berkeley is precisely
    such an organization -- focussed on involving academic input
    and other specialized but hard-to-organize input regarding
    obscure, as-yet-unencoded scripts:

    and then working closely with the UTC, in order to bring
    better encoding proposals to the table, pre-vetted with
    input from relevant experts and communities.
    > Still something doesn't smell right about a "universal" encoding whose
    > mailing list consists almost exclusively of westerners. Inevitably
    > questions like "well, who made that decision?" will arise.

    Or you might need to consider that measuring the membership
    of a *self*-subscribing general discussion list is not the
    most accurate way to determine how or why various decisions
    about the standard are made or have been made in the past.

    > Would it not
    > be worth a little bit of money to try to find members of minority
    > linguistic communities and make a special effort to make them feel
    > welcome? (BTW, I have occasionally received emails from people in the
    > Arab world regarding issues brought up on this list. It seems
    > reasonable to conclude they don't feel comfortable contributing
    > directly, partly because of linguistic difficulties. But I strongly
    > suspect part of the reason is this list is, to be honest, not a very
    > friendly place.) This seems like a problem to me.

    Elementary List Behavior 101. (and its
    previous manifestations before the domain even
    existed) is a 14-year-old technical discussion list focussed
    on the Unicode Standard. Some of the participants on the list
    have been involved on the list continuously for 14 years now.

    The list works well when it focusses on clarification of specific
    issues regarding the standard or its implementation. The list
    works well when people new to Unicode ask general questions
    that other people can provide summary responses for and pointers
    to locations for further information. The list amuses when it
    strays off into erudite tangents regarding the history of this
    or that character or one or another linguistic topic that
    interests the participants.

    The list becomes dysfunctional when newcomers who may be
    blissfully ignorant of both the Unicode Standard in particular
    and of standards development processes in general show up and
    start ranting about how f'd up one thing or another is. It
    becomes dysfunctional when people try to use it as a platform
    for tenaciously promoting proposals -- particularly ones which
    show no hint of consensus building. It becomes dysfunctional
    when people try to use the list to voice complaints about
    ISO process or to wonder darkly about "who makes the

    Go visit *any* other long-established forum focussed on some
    particular issue. Newcomers who show up and who immediately
    start complaining and/or ranting will invariably find that
    the forum (or list) "is not a very friendly place." That's
    the way forums and lists work. People who want to be accepted
    and have influence on a list need to spend time learning the
    focus, interest, attitudes, concerns, and history of the
    forum or list, and to learn how to contribute. If they don't,
    they may end up getting hostile responses or worse. is not where decisions about the standard
    are made. People who have a serious desire to add to or impact
    something in the standard need to suck it up for a several-year-long
    commitment and to educate themselves on how to get involved
    with the UTC directly, with their national body, and with ISO
    JTC1/SC2/WG2. People who figure that out get things done --
    as in the recent work on getting N'Ko and Balinese encoded
    in the standard. People who don't figure it out tend to come back to the list and whine about how f'd up everything


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