From: Kenneth Whistler (email@example.com)
Date: Fri Jul 08 2005 - 14:31:26 CDT
Gregg Reynolds continued:
> Thanks very much for taking the time to make a very informative and
> even-tempered response
> > It becomes dysfunctional
> > when people try to use the list to voice complaints about
> > ISO process or to wonder darkly about "who makes the
> > decisions".
> I suppose that is at least partially aimed at me.
Well, it was inspired by the "who makes the decisions"
comment, but I wasn't trying to make the response ad hominem.
> I'm not wondering
> darkly (fun as that is, rhetorically), I'm wondering openly. Nor am I
> conspiracy minded; my original questions were made in good faith, driven
> by an interest in getting a clearer picture of what the Unibeast is, how
> it works, etc.
And that's why I have been responding to your questions, attempting
to provide some information about how the Unibeast gets to be
the way it is.
> One reason for this is that I've been thinking a lot
> about things like alternative encoding design principles, the relation
> of "industry" standards like Unicode to the larger community, whose
> interests get represented and how, etc. (FWIW, I think Unicode is a
> Good Thing, but it isn't everything.)
I absolutely agree.
> That in the interest of clarity
> as to what Unicode is, what it claims to be (possibly the same thing),
> and especially what it isn't. As any good sociologist will tell you,
> institutions are more than the sum of their parts. Maybe this list
> isn't the right place for such inquiries, but... see below.
I think it is perfectly on topic on this list to discuss the
impact of Unicode, how the standard (and the organization) articulate
with the rest of the industry, with information technology in
general, with interested and impacted communities, and so on.
Where it tends to run off the rails is when people (or organized
campaigns of people) show up on the list attempting to force
some change on the standard. It's a technical (and, if you will,
sociological and historical) discussion list -- not a lobbying
> > Go visit *any* other long-established forum focussed on some
> > particular issue.
> I (like most people on this list, I suspect) have visited such forums
> fairly regularly for over more than a decade. I've never seen anything
> like the Unicode list.
Well, in detail, sure. I was referring to very general patterns
of list and forum behavior, which you can see anywhere from technical
forums to videogame fan sites to gardening forums. When you
have a long-established forum, with people who know each other
and "know the ropes" -- and then when someone new shows up who
is brash, who ignores the conventions, who insists on initiating
off-topic discussions, who ignores gentle chidings, who rails
or flames when criticized, and so on, you get conflict on the
forum. Such behavior is one of the reasons why God invented
moderators and private forums.
You can end up with a pattern of defensive herd behavior by
the in crowd, who "own" the forum, and identification and
rejection of "interlopers". If that behavior gets played out
in public, it results in the "this list isn't friendly"
appearance for newcomers.
> But I don't think this list is like other lists. It is, de facto if not
> de jure, about many things. The "particular issue" covers a huge amount
> of intellectual territory. One the one hand it is highly technical; but
> on the other hand, it seems to be about something any literate can
> recognize and understand, namely characters and written language.
Correct. And one of the things that makes *this* list interesting
is that there are so many participants who have backgrounds and
expertise in so many aspects of characters and written languages --
of all sorts. Such discussion is almost always welcomed on the
list, and meanders where it will, unless it ratholes completely
in things like reminiscences about ancient hardware history and
> it is completely unsurprising to me at least that people show up on this
> list and have things to say about their own written languages. Even
> more so, considering the general nature of many of the discussions on
> the list. Personally I don't think such people should be attacked.
I agree. And in general, they aren't.
Where people get defensive is when things go over the line into
shrill polemics that amount, in net, to "The Unicode Standard is
screwed up because XYZ in my language is handled wrong, and the
developers of the standard are ignorant asses because they don't
know my language as well as I do."
Generally -- not invariably, of course -- such statements are
delivered in contexts that make it clear that the person making
them doesnt' understand much about the Unicode Standard, its
implementation, or the standardization process.
> Contrast this with other lists (e.g. an XML list or a compiler
> development list) where it's easy for everybody to be aware of what they
> don't know.
> Also, most software projects have at least two lists, one for users and
> one for developers, and maybe one for announcements. Which leads to the
> obvious suggestion of splitting this list.
Such suggestions have been made (and tried) before. It is unlikely
that they would work now, any more than before. The problem with
attempting this in an email distribution list (as opposed to
a bulletin board forum format), is that people end up crossposting
anyway or moving whatever their topic is into whatever is the
highest traffic list, regardless of whether it is appropriate.
We see enough of this kind of crossposting already with the
existing specialized topic lists (bidi, hebrew, etc.).
> Well, sure; that goes for anybody who rants. But what about newcomers
> (or oldcomers) who don't rant? I've been repeatedly astonished at the
> sheer rudeness with which honest questions/comments have occasionally
> greeted here. But I guess there's nothing anybody can do about that.
I agree. There is really no excuse for true newcomers with honest
questions to be met with rude brushoffs.
By the way, you may not realize it, but a good proportion of
that kind of first-timer inquiry is handled not on *this*
list, but via the web form for questions and reports:
That is lower overhead for most people than signing up for
an email distribution list -- and the questions posted there
are invariably fielded politely and cordially, and if they
can't be answered by Unicode staff, are forwarded here or
elsewhere where someone might be able to respond appropriately.
> > 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.
> Ok; but that strikes me as a little self-defeating. Essentially you're
> saying (as I understand it) that the barriers to entry are very high,
> tough luck if you don't like it.
Well, yeah. One of the "barriers to entry" is more than passing
acquaintance with a densely written and highly technical 1450
page standard with half a dozen more complicated annexes and
megabytes of associated data files.
Now, because of the nature of the beast for character encoding,
not everybody has to understand the whole thing to contribute
meaningfully. One of the reasons this list is so lively is that
we *can* have discussions about individual characters (chi-rho/
khi-ro, anyone?) without dragging in the *entire* standard to
make sense of the issue.
But there is the everpresent danger of the fluency fallacy --
often seen in cocktail party discussions, where someone assumes
that because they can read and write their own language well
that that qualifies them as a linguist and grammarian.
> So you get a self-selecting group of
> encoding geeks.
Some of us wear our geek buttons proudly. ;-)
> I would think a standard that affects basically every
> literate community on earth would put a high priority on lowering those
> barriers in an effort to attract native speaker/reader participants.
This can be constructive or destructive, depending on how it
The best constructive example I can think of recently was the
organization of nearly every qualified Balinese expert and
stakeholder of note for an organized meeting (in Bali) to work through
all the encoding issues and to help develop a highly
detailed encoding proposal with serious consensus backing it
before presentation to the UTC and to WG2.
Some of the least constructive examples are when someone
gets all upset and starts a letter-writing campaign that
spams this list and random selections of Unicode Consortium
addressees with nearly idential protest letters regarding
a perceived mistreatment of their language for this that
or the other thing in the standard.
In the first case, you get constructive movement towards a
character encoding that opens a door to information technology
development. In the second case, you get noise.
> Which is where separate lists might be useful. Maybe firstname.lastname@example.org?
Well, sure, but who is going to post to email@example.com, when
that identifies them as a whiner? ;-)
This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Jul 08 2005 - 14:32:27 CDT