We did it! How a comment on HackerNews lead to 4 ½ new Unicode characters

On 22 June 2016, Unicode version 9.0 was published. As part of that, 4 new symbols were introduced – and another one was re-purposed.

This is the (brief) story of how a couple of geeks added ⏻, ⏼, ⭘,⏽, ⏾ to Unicode!

On 2nd Dec 2013, I asked this question on HackerNews

I was looking for the electrical “standby” symbol – AKA IEC5009 / IEEE1621. You know, the circle with the line through it. The one that’s on every single bloody piece of electronic equipment produced since the mid-1970s.

It’s not in the Unicode standard.

I can, if I want, have a snowman ☃ or a reversed rotated floral bullet ☙.

What other useful and/or important symbols are missing from Unicode?

The only person to reply was Joe Loughry. He took up the challenge and together we started working on the proposal. We had the very generous help of Bruce Nordman, who was involved in the original IEEE 1621 standard.

Working in the open on GitHub, we wrote up a proposal and created a font. After a lot of hard work – and even more form filling – we submitted the proposal in January 2014.

We then entered a period of emails, conference calls, and technical discussions. Were these the right symbols? (Yes!) Had we shown clear evidence of their use? (Yes!) Were they free of copyright restrictions? (Yes!) Did the members of the Unicode Consortium think the symbols would be a useful addition? (Yes! Yes! Hmmm! Maybe! No!)

Wait?! What?

and were universally liked.

There was some discussion around as several “moon” characters already existed.

☽☾🌑🌒🌓🌔🌕🌖🌗🌘🌙🌚🌛🌜🌝

None of them face the right way, at the correct angle, nor do they convey the semantic meaning of “Sleep” – so was accepted.

Now we came on to and . Off and On. Unicode has lots of straight line and circles. Did they really need their own symbols?

After much intellectual discussion and a round of voting, it was decided that none of the existing characters were suitable for “On” – so became its own character.

Rather than adding yet another circle, the consensus was to imbue heavy circle (U+2B58) with a new semantic meaning.
Heavy Circle-fs8
So, is our ½ character 😉

In February 2014 symbols were approved by the ISO 10646 Working Group 2 (JTC 1/SC 2/WG 2) at the WG2 #62 meeting to go into Amendment 2 to ISO/IEC 10646:2014.

Then – two and a half years of waiting. Occasionally answering questions from interested parties. Trying to convince open source fonts to prepare to accept the new characters. Prodding Wikipedia. And more waiting.

And now, on a rainy midsummer morning, Unicode 9.0 has been published. We did it!

The next stage is up to you!

A huge thanks to everyone who helped out along the way. Whether it was in-depth technical research, or just a tweet of encouragement – you kept us going and helped make us a success.

To The People!

6 thoughts on “We did it! How a comment on HackerNews lead to 4 ½ new Unicode characters

  1. Interesting work. Joe Loughry has this habit of showing up to contribute to solving a problem then dropping off the face of the Earth haha. Ran into him on Schneier’s blog discussing evaluation criteria. I’ve done more work in that for hardware, software, and smartphones that he (or others) might be interested in. No email on his page, though. Pass mine along to him in case he wants me to email him those or other records. Thanks.

    Nick P
    Security Engineer/Researcher
    (High assurance focus)

    • Hard to say – it was spread out of many months. At least several days between us.

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