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What does the Unicode consortium do all year?

kealanparr profile image Kealan Parr ・3 min read

I have been researching into the Unicode Consortium recently. They are the non-profit that maintains the Unicode standard. I was mostly trying to understand what do they do now?

The Unicode standard is done and dusted right? We have all languages covered and it's finished? We have no encoding issues anymore?

Not quite! If you're not quite sure what they do either nowadays, read on.

Overview

The Unicode Consortium has a number of technical committees. One of them is called the Unicode Technical Committee (UTC) are they vote on documents and proposals mostly related to the Unicode standard. They vote on technical reports and some other standards too though. You can look at all the Character Code Charts contained in the most recent Unicode release here. Or just get a good overview of their tech wiki here.

There are a lot of big companies and solo individuals voting on these proposals. Google and Microsoft for example are represented in the voting and are involved in the process.

They do this mostly via meetings, and alerting all the members to the agenda and when the meeting is scheduled.

You can look at the Document Register for each year here. The Document Register is the place where all technical documents and on-going work is stored for public access.

So what is the Consortium doing in their meetings?

Unicode is not finished! The standard is constantly evolving with new characters or new languages (some even ancient languages like Egyptian Hieroglyphs etc.)

You can read the latest Unicode standard here (to understand what the newest release added). Unicode 13.0 for example added 617 new characters from 4 scripts: Chorasmian, Dives Akuru, Khitan Small Script and Yezidi. These weren't the only changes though.

They have 4 technical meetings a year which is where the proposals and voting I discussed earlier is done. The technical meeting have lots of procedures and rules accompanying them, and you can read more about those rules here.

You can look at the last meeting minutes from 2020 here for example. You can find the things agreed by consensus and some actions points where everyone is deciding the schedule.

You can look at documents that were already discussed and agreed by consensus (and the points noted about the proposal) here as an example.

And you can learn more about how people submit new documents, and the standards Unicode expect for Unicode updates/proposals here.

How do corporate sponsors tie into their work?

They are just the same as individual members. The whole of Google gets the same vote as Individuals (1) and there are 7 different tiers of membership.

How does Unicode get released?

You can look at all the Unicode releases here. There's roughly one a year. But if Unicode is changing all the time, why don't we have to keep downloading the new character set to our phones and websites?

The Consortium solves this problem by distributing the new Unicode data files, that are used by multiple companies to implement as their basic character set. So sometimes when you're updating your favourite app, it might be because you're downloading the new Unicode character set!

Who are the members?

You can search through all the Unicode members here.

Conclusion

I hope you have an appreciation now for the on-going work Unicode Consortium continues to do. They have a lot of proposals to discuss, alongside managing their priorities in multiple technical committees and projects.

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