Emoji don’t appear out of nowhere. They’re managed by a governing body of the internet known as the Unicode Consortium, which sets encoding standards for characters so that they appear mostly consistent across computers. For the most part, they’ve operated in relative anonymity and out of the spotlight.
That is, until emoji came along. According to internal emails reviewed by BuzzFeed, the consortium’s new rock-star status as the emoji gatekeepers has caused dramatic infighting among the normally staid group. Specifically, famed typographer Michael Everson is angry that the group has chosen to focus on the tiny pictograms. “Emoji, emoji, emoji. It’s all about emoji,” he wrote.
In the meantime, Everson has been waiting for the consortium to approve some of his submissions, making them standard on mainstream consumer devices, for years. “I’m editing some documents in medieval Cornish, and I personally need some of these characters. Their absence is impeding my work,” he told BuzzFeed. (Medieval Cornish! We’ve all been there!)
Other members chimed in with their frustrations, one writing, “I was angered that an organization that essentially dedicates itself to the standardization of encoding the world’s languages has been dumbed down to the organization that ‘makes emoji.’”
They have a point. Emoji, while incredibly popular, are just one part of the consortium’s mission. Other primary goals include ensuring that all languages are equally accessible via computer — the consortium’s president described them as “digitally disadvantaged languages.”
To that end, emoji have given the consortium members a greater standing, resulting in more contributions. Now they just need to not let it go to their heads.