Greener BeeGreen GadgetsAs emoji grow more popular, the “language” also risks fragmentation

Emoji have become important. They’ve permeated our conversations and our messaging apps and our popular culture to a degree that no one could have anticipated just a few years ago, and when your phone or computer gets an update, new emoji are often featured prominently in the release notes or even announced in their own press releases.

That the “language” is so universal and recognizable is due in large part to the Unicode Consortium, the group of major tech companies in charge of defining and approving new emoji (and dozens of other character sets, besides). Every year, it proposes, discusses, and approves new additions to the language, and that heavyweights like Apple, Google, and Microsoft have become so diligent about supporting new versions is a rare victory for standards in an age where every tech company on Earth is trying to lock you into its own proprietary silo.

But the Unicode Consortium can only do so much to influence the way any given emoji looks and is interpreted. Every new version of the Unicode spec includes a description of each character, a sample image, and other broad recommendations for implementation, but companies implementing the spec are free to represent the emoji pretty much however they want. And as the language’s range of expression continues to grow, so do the opportunities for misunderstanding.

“Zero-width joiners” and compound emoji


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