[Air-L] Information wants to be ASCII or Unicode? Tibetan-written information cannot be ASCII anyway.

Han-Teng Liao (OII) han-teng.liao at oii.ox.ac.uk
Wed Jul 15 17:04:54 PDT 2009

I agree that "Information wants to be digital", and that is why we 
should start a honest conversations among programmers, IT support, 
academics and policy makers. 

I disagree that the notion that the technical support of Unicode source 
is confusing for programmers.  Please refer to the following blog post:

The Absolute Minimum Every Software Developer Absolutely, Positively 
Must Know About Unicode and Character Sets (No Excuses!)  by Joel Spolsky

We can debate about the technical implementation on and on (but I hope 
the above link has settled the technical debate).  However, it would be 
better to ask first whether we need, for example, Korean, Japanese and 
Chinese to *coexist* on the same page, or alternatively, Jewish and 
Arabic to *coexist* on the same page.  If the social and communicative 
need across languages is among our priority to support a better Internet 
environment, then the answer is obvious.  Again, the reason why Unicode 
is supported and maintained by industry and experts points to the fact 
that Google, youtube, facebook and other websites supports Unicode 
probably for a simple reason: they want to reach other local markets. 

My short-cut and simplified understanding of the whole software industry 
movement in i18n (internationalization) and l10n (localization) is as 
follows.  The industry (and along with open source community who 
actually excels in i18n and l10n) has proposed Unicode by first 
imagining there is limitless space (codepoints) for 
alphabets/scripts/strokes/characters to be assigned.  And then the 
industry can compete to implement them and satisfy any potential markets. 

So I am of the opinion that Unicode is actually market-friendly and 
potentially programmer-friendly.  It takes more effort to make it 
politically-friendly rather than merely politically-correct.  I hope my 
starting point is not about multicultural or multilingual correctness, 
but about an open nature of Internet....

All languages want to be digital.  We have enough space for them.

Mike Stanger wrote:
> At the risk of sounding like an apologist for a particular 
> linguistic-centricism, English or otherwise, from a programmer's 
> standpoint there are challenges beyond simply the choice to use 
> Unicode or some language specific codepage.
> Just using Unicode doesn't guarantee that the application viewing the 
> content will have the appropriate fonts, for one, even if the proper 
> unicode character sequences are sent (much as marking your pages as 
> GB2312 doesn't give the end-user's machine the automatic ability to 
> display the content), so it's questionable that the end-user usability 
> will actually improve just by using Unicode and I would expect that at 
> some levels it makes it more difficult to guarantee interoperability 
> when the incoming stream is arbitrary content of an arbitrary language 
> or set of languages.
> When I'm coding, I'm actually much more comfortable knowing that I 
> have a specific codepage to address rather than just knowing that I'll 
> have a Unicode stream, for example, because I'll know exactly what my 
> application should support. Unicode really tells me nothing other than 
> the content could be any known character, including the famous 
> "snowman" symbol  :-)  If I'm trying to mash-up a site and my code 
> sees that it's in GB2312 I can take appropriate steps to support it, 
> or report back that the feed is incompatible.  If I get a Unicode 
> source, I have to be constantly aware that the feed might at some time 
> have some requirements that I haven't yet addressed.
> I might suggest that rather than restricting the phrase to linguistic 
> elements and suggesting that "Unicode" is a superior term to "ASCII" 
> in this case, I'd broaden it out and say "Information wants to be 
> Digital" -- I think that's more the heart of the matter, but the term 
> ASCII conveys more meaning about language/etc. and likely helps makes 
> the implication of the argument more direct.
> YMMV - There are of course libraries of routines to address such 
> issues in code, but I think that actually points to the fact that 
> sometimes Unicode is not a simple, direct answer to a problem as 
> people might expect it to be.
> Mike
> On 14-Jul-09, at 12:21 AM, Han-Teng Liao (OII) wrote:
>> Dear all,
>>  Running the risk of trolling and misrepresenting the famous motto 
>> "Information wants to be ASCII", I want to raise the question of the 
>> difference between "Information wants to be ASCII" versus 
>> "Information wants to be Unicode" from a multilingual perspective.
>>  It should be pointed out when  Lev Manovich declare "Information 
>> wants to be ASCII"  when talking about remix and remixability of 
>> information, it was in 2005 when the adoption of Unicode was just in 
>> the early adoption period globally.  So I do not intend to raise the 
>> question to make lazy criticism against the America-centric 
>> implication inside ASCII, but rather raise the question about remix 
>> and remixability across linguistic boundaries.
>>   Why the Unicode is not universally deployed yet?  How can we 
>> measure the remixability across linguistic boundaries simply because 
>> the information are encoded not in Unicode?  Why so many 
>> user-generated content websites in China are only using their 
>> simplified-Chinese-only kind of "national standard" (GB2312) even 
>> when Hong Kong (using traditional Chinese not included in GB2312) is 
>> part of China and Beijing claims Taiwan is part of China?  What about 
>> Tibetan-written information: is it want to be Unicode or GB 
>> 18030-2000?  Tibetan-written information cannot be ASCII anyway.
>>      I really like to hear from you.
>> Best regards,
>> -- 
>> Han-Teng Liao
>> PhD Candidate
>> Oxford Internet Institute
>> http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/people/students.cfm?id=123
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Han-Teng Liao
PhD Candidate
Oxford Internet Institute

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