112: Language Formation with Amanda Hickman and Amberley Romo

Hosted byCharles Lowell and Robert DeLuca

October 11th, 2018.


In this episode, Amanda Hickman and Amberley Romo talk about how they paired up to get the safety pin, spool of thread, and the knitting yarn and needles emojis approved by the Unicode Committee so that now they are available for use worldwide.

They also talk about how their two path crossed, how you can pitch and get involved in making your own emojis, and detail their quest to get a regular sewing needle approved as well.


This show was produced by Mandy Moore, aka @therubyrep of DevReps, LLC.


ROBERT: Hello, everyone. Welcome to Episode 112 of The Frontside Podcast. I'm Robert DeLuca, a software developer here at the Frontside and I'll be your episode host. With me as co-host is Charles Lowell. Hey, Charles.

CHARLES: Hello, Robert. Good morning.

ROBERT: Good morning. This is an exciting podcast. Today, we're going to be discussing writing a proposal to the Unicode Committee, getting it accepted and rejected. This is basically making emojis which I think is really awesome. We have two guests today who have an amazing story, Amanda Hickman and Amberley Romo.

Thank you both for joining us. You two have an amazing story that I would really love to dive into and we're going to do that today. It's about basically creating your own emoji and getting that accepted so everybody can use that and I think that's super, super cool, something that I've always kind of wanted to do as a joke and it seems like that's kind of where your stories began, so you two want to jump in and start telling? I think Amanda has a great beginning to this.

AMANDA: Sure. I mean, hi and thanks for having me. I don't know where to begin and really for me, this starts with learning to sew my own clothes which is an incredibly exasperating and frustrating process that involves a lot of ripping stitches back out and starting over and Instagram was a really big part of me finding patterns and finding other people who are sewing their own clothes and learning from the process.

I wanted to be able to post stuff on Instagram and it started to drive me absolutely crazy, that there's emojis for wrenches and nuts and hammers and there are no textile emoji. The best I could find was scissors which is great because cutting patterns is a place where I spend a lot of time procrastinating but that was it. I knew a woman, Jennifer 8 Lee or Jenny who had led a campaign to get the dumpling emoji into the Unicode character set. I knew she'd succeeded in that but I didn't really know much more about how that had worked.

I started thinking I'm going write a sewing emoji. I can do this. I can lead this campaign. I started researching it and actually reached out to Jenny and I discovered that she has created an entire organization called... What was that called? She's created an entire organization called Emojination, where she supports people who want to develop emoji proposals.

CHARLES: Before you actually found the support system, you actually made the decision that you were going to do this and you found it. You know, from my perspective, I kind of see emoji is this thing that is static, it's there, it's something that we use but the idea that I, as an individual, could actually contribute to that. I probably, having come to that fork in the road would have said, "Nah, it's just it is what it is and I can't change it." What was the process in your mind to actually say, "You know what? I'm actually going to see if I can have some effect over this process?"

AMANDA: It definitely started with a lot of anger and being just consistently frustrated but I knew that someone else had already done this. It was sort of on my radar that it was actually possible to change the emoji character set. I think that if I didn't know Jenny's story and it turned out I didn't know Jenny story at all but I thought I knew Jenny story but if I didn't know that basic thing that that somebody I knew who was a mere mortal like me had gone to the Emoji Subcommittee of the Unicode Consortium and petition them to add a dumpling emoji, I am sure that I wouldn't bother. But I knew from talking to her that there was basically a process and that there were a format that they want proposal in and it's possible to write them a proposal. I knew that much just because I knew Jenny.

I think at that point, when I started thinking about this, the Emoji 9 -- I should be more of an expert on that actually, on emoji releases but a new release of emoji had come out. There were a bunch of things in that release and it got a little bit of traction on Twitter. I knew that the Unicode Consortium had just announced a whole new slate of emoji, so I also was generally aware that there was some kind of process by which emoji were getting released and expanded and updated.

ROBERT: That's interesting. Do you know when that started? Because it seems like Apple started to add more emojis around like iOS 7 or something but it was pretty static for a while right? Or am I wrong?

AMANDA: I actually am tempted to look this up but the other piece that is not irrelevant here is that at the time, I was working at a news organization called BuzzFeed that you may have heard of --

ROBERT: Maybe, I don't know. It sounds kind of familiar.

AMANDA: I do feel like people kind of know who they are. I was surrounded by emoji all the time: in BuzzFeed, in internet native of the highest order and we had to use emoji all the time and I had to figure out how to get emoji into blog post which I didn't really know how to do before that. I can put them on my phone but that was it. I was immersed in emoji already. I knew that there was a project called Emojipedia, that was a whole kind of encyclopedia of emoji.

One of my colleagues at BuzzFeed, a woman named Nicole Nguyen had written a really great article about the variation in the dance emoji. If you look at the dance emoji, one of the icons that some devices use is this kind of woman with her skirt flipping out behind her that looks like she's probably dancing a tango and then one of the icons that other character sets use and other devices use is a sort of round, yellow lumping figure with a rose in its mouth that you sort of want to hug but it's definitely not to impress you with its tango skill. She had written this whole article about how funny it was that you might send someone this very cute dumpling man with [inaudible] and what they would see was sexy tango woman.

I think there was some discussion, it was around that time also that Apple replaced the gun emoji with a water gun. There was some discussion of the direction that the various emoji's face. One of the things that I learned around that time was that every device manufacturer produces their own character set that's native to their devices and they look very different. That means that there's a really big difference between putting a kind of like frustrated face with a gun pointing at it, which I don't really think of it as very funny but that sort of like, "I’m going to shoot myself" is very different from pointing the gun the other way which is very much like, "I'm shooting someone else," so these distinctions, what it means that the gun emoji can point two different ways when it gets used was also a conversation that was happening. None of that answers your question, though which is when did the kind of rapid expanse of emoji start to happen.

ROBERT: I feel like the story is setting in the place there, though because it seems like there's a little bit of tension there that we're all kind of diverging here a little bit and it's sort of driving back towards maybe standardization.

AMANDA: There's actually, as far as I know, no real move toward standardization but the Unicode Consortium has this committee that actually has representatives from definitely Apple and Microsoft and Google and I forget who else on the consortium. Jenny 8 Lee is now on the consortium and she's on the Emoji Subcommittee but they actually do get together and debate the merits of adding additional emoji, whether they're going to be representative. One of the criteria is longevity and I tend to think of this as the pager problem. There is indeed a pager emoji and I think that the Unicode Consortium wants to avoid approving a pager emoji because that was definitely a short-lived device.

CHARLES: Right. I'm surprised that it actually made it. Emoji must be older than most people realize.

AMANDA: My understanding is that very early Japanese computers had lots emoji. There's a lot of different Japanese holidays that are represented in emoji, a lot of Japanese food as well are represented in emoji, so if you look through the foods, there's a handful of things that haven't added recently but a lot of the original emoji definitely covered Japanese cuisine very well.

ROBERT: I definitely remember when I got my first iPhone that could install iPhone OS 2, you would install an app from the App Store that then would allow you to go toggle on the emoji keyboard but you had to install an app to do it and that's kind of where the revolution started, for me at least. I remember everybody starting to sending these things around.

AMANDA: But if you look at Emojipedia, which has a nice kind of rundown of historical versions of the Unicodes, back in 1999, they added what I think of as the interrobang, which is the exclamation/question mark together and a couple of different Syriac crosses. Over the years, the committee has added a whole series of wording icons and flags that all make sense but then, it is around, I would say 2014, 2015 that you start to get the zipper mouth and rolling your eyes and nerd face and all of the things that are used in conversation now -- the unicorn face.

ROBERT: My regular emojis.

AMANDA: Exactly.

CHARLES: It certainly seems like the push to put more textile emoji ought to clear the hurdle for longevity, seeing there’s kind of like, what? Several millennia of history there? And just kind of how tightly woven -- pun intended -- those things are into the human experience, right?

AMANDA: Definitely. Although technically, there's still no weaving emojis.

CHARLES: There's no loom?

AMANDA: There's no loom and I think that a loom would be pretty hard to represent in a little 8-bit graphic but --

CHARLES: What are the constraints around? Because ultimately, we've already kind of touched on that the emoji themselves, their abstract representations and there are a couple of examples like the dancing one where the representation can vary quite widely. How do they put constraints around the representation versus the abstract concept?

AMANDA: You don't have to provide a graphic but it definitely kind of smooths the path if you do and it has to be something that's representable in that little bitty square that you get. It has to be something representable in a letter-size square. If it's not something that you can clearly see at that size, it's not going to be approved. If it's not something you can clearly illustrate at that size in a way that's clearly distinct from any other emoji and also that's clearly distinct from anything else of that image could be, it's not going to be approved. Being able to actually represented in that little bitty size and I don't know... One of sort of sad fact of having ultimately worked with Emojination on the approval process is that we were assigned an illustrator and she did some illustrations for us and I never had to look at what the constraints were for the illustration because it wasn't my problem.

ROBERT: Sometimes, that's really nice.

AMANDA: Yes, it's very nice. I ended up doing a lot of research. What made me really sad and I don't want to jump too far ahead but one of things that made me really sad is we proposed the slate and the one thing that didn't get approved was the sewing needle and it also didn't get rejected, so it's in the sort of strange nether space. That's kind of stuck in purgatory right now. I did all this research and learned that the oldest known sewing needle is a Neanderthal needle so it predates Homo sapiens and it's 50,000 years old.

CHARLES: Yeah. Not having a sewing needle just seem absurd.

AMANDA: Yeah. We have been sewing with needles since before we were actually human being.

ROBERT: That's a strong case.

AMANDA: Yes, that's what I thought. If I sort go back to my narrative arc, I wanted to do a sewing needle and started researching it a little bit --

CHARLES: Sorry to keep you interrupting but that's literally the one that started this whole journey.

AMANDA: Yes, I wanted a sewing needle and I really wanted a sewing needle. I did a little research and then I reach out to Jenny and to ask her if she had any advice. She said, "You should join my Slack," and I was like, "Oh, okay. That's the kind of advice." She and I talked about it and she said that she thought that it made more sense to propose a kind of bundle of textile emoji and I decided to do that. She and I talked it through and I think the original was probably something closer to knitting than yarn but we said knitting, a safety pin, thread and needle were the ones that kind of made the most sense.

I set about writing these four proposals and one of the things that they asked for was frequently requested. One other thing that I will say about the proposal format is that they have this outline structure that is grammatically very wonky. They ask you to assert the images distinctiveness and they also ask you to demonstrate that it is frequently requested. I found a couple of really interesting resources. One, Emojipedia which is this sort of encyclopedia of emoji images and history maintains a list of the top emoji requests. I actually don't know how they generate that list or who's requesting that and where but I think it's things that they get emailed about and things people request in other contexts and sewing and knitting, I've done on that list and I started compiling it in 2016.

ROBERT: To be a part of the proposal process, to show that it is requested, without that resource, you just start scouring Facebook and Twitter and history and shouting to people like, "I really want this emoji. Why it didn't exist?" That seems pretty hard.

AMANDA: Actually our proposals all have Twitter screen shots of people grousing about the absence of knitting emoji and yarn emoji and sewing emoji. I know that Emojipedia, they do a bunch of research so they go out and look at based what people are grousing about on Twitter. They look at places where people are publicly saying like, "It's crazy that there's no X emoji," and that's part of their process for deciding what kinds of emojis people are asking for. Their research was one resource but we took screenshots of people saying that they needed a safety pin emoji and that was part of making the case.

One of the things that I found as I was doing that research was that, I guess at this point it was almost two years ago, when the character set that included the dumpling emoji came out, there was a bunch of grousing from people saying, "Why is there not a yarn emoji?"

There was a writing campaign that I think Lion Brand had adopted. Lion Brand yarn had put in this tweet saying like, "Everyone should complain. We needed a yarn emoji," but it doesn't matter how much you yell on Twitter. If you don't actually write a proposal, you're not going to get anywhere. I had been told that the Emoji Subcommittee, they're really disinclined to accept proposals that had a corporate sponsor, so they weren't going to create a yarn emoji because Lion Brand yarns wanted them to create a yarn emoji.

ROBERT: Right, so it was like counter-peer proposal.

AMANDA: Right. But as I was digging around the other thing I found was this woman in... I actually don't know if you're in Dallas or Austin but I found Amberley, who also put a post on Twitter and had started a petition, asking people to sign her petition for a yarn emoji proposal or a knitting emoji. I don't remember if it was a yarn emoji or a knitting emoji but I found her petition and reached out to her to ask if she was interested in co-authoring the proposal with me because she had clearly done the work. She actually had figured out how the system worked at that point. I think she knew who she was petitioning, at least.

I reached out to Amberley and we worked together to refine our proposal and figure out what exactly we wanted to request. I think there were a bunch of things that were on the original list like knitting needles, yarn and needles. I think crocheting would have been on the original list. We were sort of trying to figure out what was the right set of requests that actually made sense.

ROBERT: So then, this is where Amberley stories comes in and it is interesting too because she has entirely different angle for this. Maybe not entirely different but different than outright. This kind of ties back to the word software podcast mostly. It kind of ties back to the software aspect, right?

AMBERLEY: Yeah. I think, really they're kind of separate stories on parallel tracks. My motivation was also two-fold like Amanda's was, where I started knitting in 2013 and I had a really good group of nerd friends with a little yarn shop up in DC, like a stitch and ditch group --

ROBERT: I love it.

AMBERLEY: It was a constant sort of like, where's the insert emoji here, like where's the yarn emoji? Where's the knitting emoji? And we would sort of sarcastically use the spaghetti emoji because it was the most visually similar but that was something that was in the back of my mind but it teaches you a lot about yourself too because I was like, "Oh, this is like fiber art, not really an emoji. It's kind of technical, like on a tech space," and I didn't really connect that it was relevant or that I might have any power to change it. It just didn't occur to me at the time.

ROBERT: Interesting. I feel like a lot of people are in that similar situation or maybe not situation, even though you can make change on this.

AMBERLEY: Right, so my brain didn't even make it like, "Why isn't this a thing? let me look at how to make the thing." When that happened for me, Amanda mentioned using emoji and everything in the BuzzFeed space. I love how you explained BuzzFeed a while ago, it's my favorite description of BuzzFeed I ever heard. Something similar that happened for me was I was a software developer and in 2016, the Yarn package manager was released and that kind of turned something on in my head. That was like I'm seeing all these software engineers now be like, "Where's the yarn emoji?" and I'm like, "Welcome to the club."

ROBERT: "Do you want to join our Slack? We can complain together."

AMBERLEY: Right. It has been like a pretty decent amount of time, I'm semi-seriously ranting and complaining to my coworkers who were primarily male software engineers. I remember I went to [inaudible] in the Frost Bank Tower after work and was just like, "I'm going to figure out how this happens," and I spent a couple hours at the coffee shop. I found the Unicode site and I found their proposal process and their structure for the proposal and everything and I just started doing the research and drafting up a proposal specifically for yarn. Maybe it was a bit naive of me but to me it was like, "Okay, here's the process. I follow the process. Cool." I mean, you have to make a case and it has to be compelling and has to be well-written and it has to be supported and all that and that to me it was like, "Okay, there's a process.

At the same time, I did read about the dumpling emoji but I didn't connect it to Emojination and they had started the Kickstarter. We should talk about this later but I think the sort of idea the issue of representation on the committee and who gets to define language is really interesting but I saw that they had done the Kickstarter and there was a campaign aspect to it, so I ended up just building up this simple site so that if anyone Google, they would find yarn emoji. It's still up at YarnEmoji.com and that was how Amanda found me.

I got this random email, I sort of like had this burst of energy and I did all the research and I wrote the draft, sort of piecemeal, filling out the different sections of the way they have it outlined on the Unicode site and then I feel like a month or two went by and I had kind of not looked at it for a bit and then, I get this random email from this website that I almost forgot about. It was like, "Hey, I'm working on this series of proposals. If you're working on knitting or yarn or whatever, maybe we could work together," and I was like, "Well, that's sweet." Then she opened up this whole world to me. There's this whole Emojination organization, sort of 100% devoted to democratizing the process of language formation through creating emojis and so then, I got really into that. My primary motivator was yarn.

CHARLES: So what's the status of the yarn spool, those emoji right now?

AMBERLEY: The yarn, the spool of thread and the safety pin, they're all approved emoji for the 2018 released. Amanda and I are actually at the end. Amanda, a couple of months ago when I saw someone used the spool thread emoji for a Twitter thread -- you know how people will be like all caps thread and have a thread of tweets -- I saw someone do that just out of the blue. I was like, "Oh, my God. Is it out?" and the thing about these individual vendors, it sort of gets released piecemeal, so at the time Twitter have I think released their versions of this series of new emoji but others hadn't.

CHARLES: How does that work? Because you think the Twitter would be kind of device depending on what browser you're using, like if you're on a Windows or a Mac or a Linux Box, right?

ROBERT: -- Emoji set, right? I know Facebook does this too.

AMBERLEY: I'm painfully aware that Facebook does it because I can't use the crossed finger emoji on Facebook because it actually gives me nightmares.

ROBERT: I have to go look at this now.

AMBERLEY: Because it's so creepy-looking.

CHARLES: Okay. Also like Slack, for example is another. It's like a software-provided emoji set.

AMANDA: Right.

AMBERLEY: I'm not totally sure that Slack actually adheres to the standard Unicode set. I think it's kind of its own thing but I might be wrong about that.

AMANDA: Sorry, Slack definitely supports the full Unicode set. They also have a bunch of emoji that they've added that aren't part of the set.

AMBERLEY: Slack emojis?


CHARLES: Yeah and then every Slack also has its kind of local Slack emoji.


CHARLES: But how does that work with --?

ROBERT: Okay, this crossed-finger Facebook emoji is... yes, I agree with you, Amberley.

AMBERLEY: Thank you. I had yet to find someone who disagrees with me about that.

AMANDA: I have never seen it before and I'm now like, "What is going on?"

CHARLES: Yeah, so how does it work if a vendor like Twitter is using a different emoji set? How does that work with cut and paste, like if I want to copy the content of one tweet into something else? Are they using an image there?

AMANDA: They're using an image. I think it's doesn't happen as much anymore but for a long time, I would often get texts from people and the text message would have that little box with a little code point in it and you were like --

AMBERLEY: More like an alien thing?

AMANDA: Yeah. Definitely, if you don't have the emoji character set that includes the glyph that you're looking at, you're going to get that little box that has a description of the code point and I think what's happening is that Twitter is using JavaScript or generally programming. There were air quotes but you can't see.

Twitter is using their software to sub in their emoji glyph whenever someone enters that code point. Even if you don't have the most up to date Unicode on your computer, you can still see those in Twitter. If I copy and paste it into a text editor on my computer, what I'm going to see is my little box that says '01F9F5' in it but if I get it into Twitter, it shows up. I can see them on Twitter but I can't see them anywhere else.

AMBERLEY: Damn, you really have the code point memorized?

AMANDA: No, I --

CHARLES: Oh, man. I was really hoping --

AMBERLEY: Oh, man.

ROBERT: You live and breathe it.

AMANDA: No, I'm not that compulsive.

AMBERLEY: We definitely have our emojis on our Twitter bios, though.

AMANDA: Absolutely.

ROBERT: If you see Amanda's bio, it's pretty great.

AMANDA: They started showing up on Twitter and I think that somebody in Emojination probably told me they were out and that was when I first started using them. Amberley might have actually seen it. It sounds like you just saw it in the wild, which is kind of amazing.

AMBERLEY: I saw it in the wild with this tweet thread and yeah, it's just [inaudible]. I was like, "Amanda, is it out?"

CHARLES: Yeah, I feel like I saw that same usage too, although I obviously did not connect any dots.

AMANDA: This last week, October 2nd -- I'm also looking things up. I'm just going to come to the fact that I am on a computer looking things up so I can fact check myself -- after they actually released their emoji glyph set, so by now any updated iOS device should have the full 2018 emoji, which in addition to a kind of amazing chunky yarn and safety pin, there's also a bunch of stuff. There's a broom and a laundry basket. There's a bunch of really basic, kind of household stuff that certainly belongs in the character set alongside wrenches and hammers.

AMBERLEY: I think one of the big ones too for this year was the hijab?

AMANDA: No, the hijab actually came out with a dumpling. Hijab has been available --

AMBERLEY: It's been up, okay.

ROBERT: So did it come with iOS 12 or 12.1? I don't know for sure. I just know --

AMANDA: I'm looking at it and it's 12.1. I really feel that I should be ashamed that I have used the internet and search for this.

AMBERLEY: I would say, I have no idea what their release numbers are.

AMANDA: [inaudible] as it appeared for the first time in iOS for 2018 with today's release of the iOS 12.1, Beta 2 for developers.

ROBERT: That is amazing. Do you get some kind of satisfaction -- like you have to, right? -- from people using the emoji and it's starting to make its way out there?

AMANDA: So much. Oh, my God, yeah.

AMBERLEY: I didn't really expect it, like saying that random tweet using this spool of thread for a tweet thread. I just thought and I just got so psyched. For me, I'm a knitter. I have knitter friends and it started with yarn and then really, Amanda and through Amanda, Jenny really sort of broadened my idea of what it all really meant. To think someone using it in the wild for a totally different application than I had ever thought of was like, "That's legit."

AMANDA: I definitely have a sewing emoji search in my tweet deck and sometimes, when I'm feeling I need a little self-validation, I'll go look over there and find people who are saying things like, "Why is there no sewing emoji?" and I'll just reply with all the sewing emoji, like it is part of my work in this life to make sure that not only do they exist but people know about them.

ROBERT: That is awesome. I would do the same thing, though to be honest. You'll be proud of that.

AMANDA: Totally.

ROBERT: Were there any hitches in the proposal process? I know we're kind of alluded to it but the thing that you started off one thing, Amanda didn't make it. Right?

AMANDA: I know.

ROBERT: So how did that process happen from you two meet each other and then going through the actual committee and the review process and then being accepted. What would that mean?

AMANDA: The process is actually incredibly opaque. We wrote this whole proposal, a bunch of people edited it, which is one of the other nice things about collaborating with Emojination. There was a bunch of people who are just really excited about emoji and the kind of language making that Amberley was talking about. There's a whole bunch of people who just jumped in and gave us copy edits and feedback, which was super helpful and then, there was a deadline and we submitted it to the committee and it actually shows up in the Unicode register which is also a very official kind of document register. I was a little excited about that too but then they have their meeting.

They first have a meeting and there's like a rough pass and the Emoji Subcommittee makes formal recommendations to the Unicode Consortium and then the consortium votes to accept or reject the Emoji Subcommittee's recommendations. It's a very long process but unless you're going and checking the document file and meeting minutes from the Unicode Consortium meetings, you'll never going to know that it happen.

AMBERLEY: -- You know someone connected through there because one of the things in our first pass, it wasn't that it was rejected. It was that we needed to modify something. We do have art for knitting needles with yarn because at one point, I think we weren't totally sure that a ball of yarn would be visually distinct enough in this emoji size to look like yarn and so, we had put it with sort of knit piece on knitting needles.

AMANDA: Oh, that's right. There was a tease of a little bit of knitted fabric.

AMBERLEY: Right and I think that, probably through Jenny or the people actually in the room, the feedback I remember is that there is a crocheter in the room who was like, "Yeah, why isn't there a yarn emoji but knitting needle?" so there was a little bit of like that was how I think we ended up from knitting needles with a fiber piece to ball of yarn, maybe.

AMANDA: I think that sounds right. I'm actually sure of that. It's just all coincide with my recollection. There were some things that they had questions about and that happened really fast because I feel like we had a couple of days and they have stuck to our guns and said, "No, we're only interested in knitted bit of fabric." Also, we worked with an illustrator and went back and forth with her because the initial piece that she had illustrated, I feel like the knitting needles were crossing in a way. That was not how knitting works and so, there was a little bit of back and forth around that as well.

But then once they decided that the they like the thread, yarn and safety pin, we're going to move to the next stage. I actually had to go back and look at the minutes to find out that the two reasons that they didn't move the sewing needle on to the next stage is when they thought it was adequately represented by the thread, which I wholeheartedly disagree with and they thought it wasn't visually distinctive. That's so much harder because a sewing needle, which is really just a very fine piece of metal with an eye at the end, you get down to a really small size and it is maybe a little hard to know what you're looking at.

But I think there's such a big difference between the static object which is the spool or the thread which represents a lot of things and is important and the needle, which is the active tool that you use to do the making, to do the mending, to do the cobbling.

CHARLES: Yeah. I'm surprised that it almost isn't reversed when certainly in my mind, which I think is more culturally important in terms of the number of places which it appears, it's definitely the needle as being kind of... Yeah.

AMANDA: Yeah and I think that the thread and yarn, they're important and I think that the decision to have a ball of yarn rather than a bit of knitting makes sense because there's a lot of things that you can use a ball of yarn that aren't just knitting and they think that --

AMBERLEY: And it's the first step too that doesn't exclude anyone in the fiber art community.

AMANDA: But there's so many things like in sutures and closing wounds, you're not using a little spool of cotton thread for that or polyester thread and stuff like embroidery and beadwork, you might be using thread or fiber of some sort that started on a spool but you might not. Embroidery floss was not sold in a spool and there's all these places where we use needles and all kinds of different size and you don't always use thread.

Sometimes, you're using yarn. Sometimes, you're using leather cord. Sometimes, you're using new bits of, I would say Yucca. You're using plant fibers to do baskets and in all of these different practices, that process of hooking it through the eye and sewing it is how it's actually made. It still sort of mystifies me why they haven't accepted it but they also didn't reject it, which is really interesting. I don't know how many other emoji are sort of sitting in this weird nether space because sometimes they just reject them outright. I think there was a proposal for a coin that they just said no.

ROBERT: They were a like, "A coin?" That would be [inaudible].

AMANDA: Oh, God.

ROBERT: They have to add one for every --

AMANDA: [inaudible].

CHARLES: Literally, the pager of 2017.

AMANDA: Exactly.

CHARLES: So what recourse is now available to you all and to us, by extension, to get the sewing needle?

AMANDA: I'm actually working on a revised proposal and I've been trying to figure out what are all the arguments that I'm missing for why sewing and the needle are not adequately represented by the thread and yarn. A bunch of things that a friend of my named, Mari who's half-Japanese, half-American but lives in Guatemala and does all this kind of arts in textile work, pointed out that there's a whole holiday in Japan devoted to bringing your broken needles and thanking them for their service. I thought that was really cool.

I've been trying to formulate what are all of the arguments for the necessity of both a needle and a spool. If anybody has interesting ways to phrase that, I would love for arguments.

CHARLES: Yeah but it's hard to imagine the arguments is just anything being more compelling than the arguments the you just laid out that you named about seven context: shoemaking, medicine, different fibers where the needle operates completely and totally independent of the thread. It's looming so large in kind of our collective conscious like holidays, being dedicated to them, except I think the Cro-Magnon pager, which is made out of stone, I believe, the being the artifact that pre-dates...

AMANDA: There's the idiom landscape as well. Things like finding a needle in a haystack, that has a very specific meaning --

ROBERT: And for puns. I've been resisting saying a pun this whole time.

AMANDA: Oh, share your pun with us.

AMBERLEY: Yeah, you have to say it.

ROBERT: Well, you could say that trying to get this through the committee is like threading a needle. Butchered but --

AMANDA: There's a biblical quote about getting into heaven -- a camel through the eye of a needle. I forget actually how it...

CHARLES: To thread a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.

AMANDA: Exactly and there's this sort of do-re-mi, saw, a needle pulling thread. There are all these places where it's about the needle and somebody had --

CHARLES: It's primarily ancient.

AMANDA: I know.

CHARLES: It is the prime actor. Maybe, this is a good segue into kind of talking about the makeup of the committee and the decision making process and these kind of what seem like very clear arguments might not be received as such.

AMANDA: I certainly don't want to say anything bad about anybody on the committee.

CHARLES: No, no, I don't think that there's anything bad. I think that being receptive to things which are familiar to us versus with things that aren't is a very natural human thing and it can be interesting to see that at work and at play.

AMANDA: The Unicode Consortium is also evaluating all of these requests for whole language glyphs sets. Lots of languages and lots of character sets that are kind of obvious, like there has to be a sort of like character set like there has to be an Arabic character set but there are a lot of languages that have been left out of that because they're very small minority languages or they are historical languages, where the actual writing is no longer written the same way but there's historical reasons to be able to represent those characters.

One of the reasons why the Emoji Subcommittee cares about what gets into the formal character set is that everybody has to accommodate it and there's already been, I think some grousing. People start to moan and groan about how there's too many emoji, then it's too hard to find things.

CHARLES: And there's no take backs.

AMANDA: There's no take backs. You can't undo it. The committee is made up of representatives from a lot of tech companies primarily, although there's a couple of other kind of odd additional folks on there. I do try to find the committee list and I can find it right now.

AMBERLEY: I have it from Emojination. I don't know if it's up to date but Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, Google, Facebook, Shopify and Netflix. The other voting members --

ROBERT: Shopify?

AMBERLEY: Yeah, right? The others being the German software company, SAP and the Chinese telecom company, Huawei and the Government of Oman.

AMANDA: Yeah, the Government of Oman is a fascinating one. I don't think they're the ones that are biting us on this. Especially for those tech companies, every time the emoji character set adds 10 or 12 emoji, they don't have to accommodate it on their devices. They have to put illustrators on it, they have to deal with everyone saying that the crossed fingers emoji in Facebook looks like I-don't-even-know-what.

AMBERLEY: Hey, Amanda.

AMANDA: It's all your fault. There's a whole process and there's non-trivial work associated with every single new emoji, so wanting to put the brakes on a little bit and be intentional about where and when they apply that work, it doesn't seem crazy to me. I just want them to approve the thing that I want.

AMBERLEY: I like the way that Emojination captures it. I looked at their website earlier and actually, they take it down but their goal quote "Emojination wants to make emoji approval an inclusive representative process." There has to be a process. There's overhead involved but looking at the makeup of the decision makers are not a trivial question.

CHARLES: Right. This is a great example like [inaudible] metaphor but these little artifacts, these emojis are literally being woven to the fabric of a global culture and certainly, everybody uses them and they become part of the collective subconscious. It does seem like very important to be democratic in some way. It sounds like there is a process but making sure that everyone has a stake.


ROBERT: What was the reason that they gave for not accepting the needle and thread? Was it like a soft no? You said it's like just hanging out, not really rejected but not accepted. We're going to drop a link in the show notes for the proposal and your GitHub and everything. I'm looking at the PDF that was put together and it seems like it was all a package deal like we talked about. How do they just draw or they just take like a lawyer would, just like draw or cross it out like, "Well, no but we'll take the other ones."

AMANDA: Yes, basically. What they did is they need to discuss and I don't know how long they've been meeting but they need to discuss all of the proposals that have been supplied by a particular deadline and --

ROBERT: That sounds painful.

AMANDA: Yeah, I mean, it's --

ROBERT: Just imagine the power of thinking about emojis.

AMANDA: One of the things that they rejected, I think because there's the smiling poo face. Somebody wanted a frowning poo face and they rejected that. There's a bunch of things that actually do get rejected. I don't know if they've been really care about a smiling poo face versus a frowning poo face.

ROBERT: What about an angry one?

AMANDA: We got all the feelings of poo.

ROBERT: We got important work to do here.

AMANDA: But they go through when they're trying to figure out. I think to some degree, you want to get them when they're not tired but I think the status that it's listed right now is committee pushback, so they've set it aside until we have some concerns. We're not going to reject it outright but we're not really sure why this isn't adequately represented. Then their most recent meeting, they just kind of passed on reconsidering it, which is fine because I think I was traveling and my proposal is not done. I really want to make sure that I have consolidated every imaginable argument in one place so --

ROBERT: And make it strong as possible.

AMANDA: Yeah. If people want to help the other thing that would be amazing is any and all idioms that you can think of, especially ones that are not in English or European languages, idioms in Central European languages, idioms in Asian languages that refer to needles, either translations of the kind of classic, 'finding a needle in a haystack,' but also any idioms that are kind of unusual and specific to a culture outside of what I have experience with would be amazing for making the case, so this is an international need.

ROBERT: Do they need any specific or actionable feedback or do they just say, "We're going to push back on this. We're just not quite sure?"

AMANDA: The two things that we're in the minutes -- there are minutes and they publish the minutes to Unicode.org -- were it was not visually distinct, which is not totally crazy. We actually worked with an illustrator to get a different image. The first image was almost at 90 degrees. It was kind of straight up and down and it is a little hard to see and the second is --

ROBERT: Especially, because it's thin.

AMANDA: The second image is actually a kind of stylized needle because it's fairly a little fatter and the eye is bigger but it's much more distinctively a needle. I'm hoping that that will also convince them but you have to be able to tell at a very small size that it's a needle. The other thing that they said was that sewing was already represented by the thread, that we didn't need thread and needle but it was literally one line in the minutes that referenced that and then it sort of like, "Did you have somebody in the room or not?" and so, if there is somebody on the committee who is willing to tell you really what their concerns were, then you have some sense of what they're looking for and why they're pushing back.

When you can very much see in the earliest emoji character sets that I have a hammer and I have a wrench and I use them but there's these very conventionally male tools. We have all of the kind of office supplies but all of homemaking and housekeeping and textile production, none of them were there until very, very recently. I think it does reflect the gender of the people who've been making these tools, that sewing and knitting weren't important enough as human practices to be included in this glyph set.

AMBERLEY: I guess, that's non-trivial to mention because that wasn't an argument that I made in my original yarn draft and Amanda and Jenny sort of pushing to open it up to this whole slate of craft emoji. I didn't realize until they brought that up. I took a stroll through pretty much the whole slate of emoji and you can count on almost one hand the number that represented the creative endeavors or sort of more traditionally known as creative things like camera or painting palette and stuff like that. It was extremely limited.

AMANDA: I think they have stuff like that. I think there's a few different variations on the camera and then there's painting palette and that's it.

AMBERLEY: Oh, there's the theater mask.

AMANDA: Oh, that's right. There is the theater, the happy and sad --

AMBERLEY: And I don't know it exactly and I haven't read the minutes like Amanda has but I think and I hope that that was a particularly compelling piece of that argument.

AMANDA: I think they definitely heard it.


CHARLES: Opening it up then, what else is coming in the way of craft? It sounds like this is historical but these pieces are being filled in not only with the work that you all are doing but by other emoji which you're appearing.


CHARLES: And are you in contact with other people who are kind of associated with maybe craft and textiles and other kind of what you're labeling historically creative spaces?

AMANDA: I don't think there are anymore with a possible exception. Someone's working on a vinyl record proposal which I think is great.

CHARLES: Yeah, that's awesome.

ROBERT: Antiquated, though.

AMANDA: Maybe not, I don't know.

AMBERLEY: Take a stroll through the Emojination Slack and people discussed that.

AMANDA: Yeah. If you click at Emojination.org, the whole Airtable database is on there. There's not a lot of other creative ones. A friend of mine got really bent out of shape about the lack of alliums and wrote a whole slate proposal for leeks and scallions and garlic and onions.

ROBERT: Oh, there is a garlic one, right?

AMANDA: No. I mean, there is --

AMBERLEY: Actually, I'm looking at the Unicode page for current emoji candidates. They first get listed as... I forget the exact order. They become draft candidates and then provisional candidates or vice versa but I don't see any pending further creative ones but garlic and onion are on there.


ROBERT: That makes my Italian a little happy.

AMANDA: I think there's some prosthesis, the mechanical leg and the mechanical arm, a guide dog --

AMBERLEY: Ear with hearing aid, service dog.

AMANDA: Yeah, there's a good chunk of interesting things that have been left out. I guess they've been approved by the subcommittee but are still waiting on final approval by the Unicode Consortium.

ROBERT: Okay. What are the next steps that we can do to help push the thread and needle proposal through it. You mentioned a couple things like coming up with idioms that are in different languages and whatnot but how can we contact you and push this effort and help?

AMANDA: That's such a good question. I don't even know. I mean, I am Amanda@velociraptor.info and you're totally welcome to email me if you want to help with this and I will --

ROBERT: That's a great domain, by the way.

AMANDA: Unfortunately, there's no information about velociraptors anywhere on that site.

ROBERT: That's the way it should be.

AMANDA: But also, if you're excited about working on emoji proposals, Emojination is an incredibly great resource and folks there, including me actually will help you identify things that are on other people's wish lists that you could work on if you just want to work on something and we'll help you refine your proposal if you know what you want and we'll help you figure out whether it's worth putting the time in or not and how to make it compelling. You can definitely check out Emojination.org. I think there's a path to get on to the Slack from there.

AMBERLEY: Oh, yeah. The Slack and the Airtable.


ROBERT: It sounds like there's a whole community that was born out of this, where everybody is trying to help each other and collaborate and get their shared ideas across.

AMANDA: Definitely and there's a woman, Melissa Thermidor who is fantastic, who actually is a social media coordinator. It's her actual title but she works for the National Health Service in the UK and was tasked with getting a whole series of health-related emoji passed. There's a bunch of things that she's --

AMBERLEY: Is she's the one doing blood.

AMANDA: She's doing blood.

AMBERLEY: That's a good one.

AMANDA: Because there's a lot of really important health reasons why you need to be able to talk about blood and getting blood and blood borne illnesses and --

AMBERLEY: That one was listed on the emoji candidate page or blood donation medicine administration.


ROBERT: That's really interesting, so she works for the government, right? and that was part of her job to do that?


ROBERT: That's awesome, actually. I love that.

AMANDA: Yeah, I think the drop of blood, the bandage and the stethoscope are the three that are in the current iteration, which is interesting because the existing medical emoji were the pill and that gruesome syringe with a little drops of fluid flying off of it, which do not do a lot to encourage people to go to the doctor.

ROBERT: No, not at all.

AMANDA: So a few more, we're welcoming medical emoji.

ROBERT: You have a GitHub. Is that where you're still doing for the follow up and the prep work for the sewing emoji?

AMANDA: Yeah, that's probably the best place. I do have a Google Docs somewhere but that's probably a better place to connect even than my ridiculous Velociraptor email. The GitHub --

ROBERT: But it's still awesome.

AMANDA: It is awesome. I won't lie. I'm very proud of it. I am AmandaBee -- like the Bumble Bee -- on GitHub and the sewing emoji, the original proposals are there and I will make sure that there is information about how to plug into the revised needle proposal there as well. You guys are a tech podcast, so if people want to just submit suggestions as issues on that repository, that's awesome. We'll totally take suggestions that way.

ROBERT: That would be pretty rad. Well, I appreciate you two being on the podcast. I love hearing your stories and how it ended up converging in parallel tracks but it end up achieving the same goal. Still unfinished, right? Let's see if we can help push this over the finish line and get it done because I would really like to see a needle. I could definitely use that in many of my conversations already now, making all kinds of puns. Thank you, Amanda for coming on and sharing your story.

AMANDA: Thanks for having me.

ROBERT: And thank you, Amberley for also coming on and sharing your story. This was super awesome.

AMBERLEY: Yeah and thank you for connecting us to finally have a voice conversation.

AMANDA: I know. It's great to actually talk to you, Amberley.

CHARLES: Oh, wow, this is the first time that you actually talked in audio?


ROBERT: We're making things happen here. The next thing we have to do is get this proposal through and accepted.


CHARLES: You've converted two new faithful sewing and needle partisans here and I'm in.

AMANDA: Awesome.

ROBERT: I know you've already gotten, what? Three through accepted?


ROBERT: We talked about that, it's got to be really awesome. I think I want to try and jump in and get that same satisfaction because a lot of people use emojis.

AMANDA: Exactly.

CHARLES: It definitely makes me think like you look at every single emoji and there's definitely a story. Especially for the ones that have been added more recently, there's a lot of work that goes into every single pixel. That represents a lot of human time, which I'm sure you all know, so thank you.

AMANDA: Thanks for having us on.

AMBERLEY: Yeah, thank you guys.

ROBERT: Cool. That is the podcast. We are Frontside. We build UI that you can stick your future on. I really love this podcast because it wasn't necessarily technical but had a lot of interesting conversation about how to work with a proposal and probably make a bigger impact than any of us with software, just because the sheer reach that emojis have are insane and the fact that you can influence this process is new to me and really cool, so I hope a lot of other people learn from that too.

If you have any feedback that you would like to give us on the podcast, we're always open to receive feedback. We have our doors and ears open, so if you like to send an email at Contact@Frontside.io or shoot us a tweet or DM us at @TheFrontside on Twitter. We'd love to hear it.

Thank you, Mandy for producing the podcast. She always does an amazing job with it. You can follow her on Twitter at @TheRubyRep. Thanks and have a good one.

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