Star characters (☆★) have long been part of the Unicode standard, which means they can appear as characters in web pages, text, and email. But half-stars were missing, so they required special images or custom fonts. I recently co-wrote a proposal to add half-star characters to Unicode, and it was just accepted . In the next Unicode release, half-stars will be usable like any other text character. In this article, I discuss how I got these characters added to Unicode, and how you can add characters too.
Usage of the four different half-stars to express 3.5 of 5.
Unicode is the computer standard that defines the characters that are used by almost every computer—this standard allows different computers to easily display text in almost every language, and with almost every symbol you might need. (Before Unicode, dealing with non-English text on computers was a mess.) But Unicode doesn't include everything. Last June, a comment on Hacker News complained that Unicode lacked the half-star character used in ratings and movie reviews:
Until Unicode has a half-star character, it won't even be able to encode the average newspaper.
I suggested that someone should propose the half-star to Unicode, but quickly realized that "someone" would be me. Since I had successfully proposed two symbols to Unicode earlier, I knew the process necessary to get the half-star added.
A few years ago, a detailed article described how a couple people got power symbols added to Unicode . Adding a new character to Unicode is easier than most people think. You don't need to pay money, be part of a major company or join a committee. All you need to do is write a proposal explaining why the character is needed. If the Unicode Committee agrees, they'll approve your character for addition to Unicode.
In 2015, I started programming the 1960s-eraIBM 1401 mainframe at the Computer History Museum . But when I wrote about the IBM 1401 system, I ran into a problem. This computer uses a 6-bit character set (the precursor to EBCDIC) with some strange characters . All these characters appeared in Unicode, with the exception of one: the Group Mark. I was a bit shocked that Unicode, with its 128,172 characters , lacked a character I needed. Having read about the power symbol team's success in adding characters, I figured it would be interesting to see if I could get the group mark character added to Unicode. I wrote a proposal , submitted it to Unicode, and at the next meeting it was approved .
The group mark character, from an IBM 705 computer manual (1959). Since Unicode lacked this character, you couldn't write this text on a modern computer.
A few months later, I learned that the Bitcoin symbol was missing from Unicode. This was a surprising omission, since the Bitcoin symbol is widely used in the real world. The symbol had been rejected before , so I made a more thorough proposal in October 2015 with the enthusiastic support of /r/bitcoin and other Bitcoin groups. The Bitcoin symbol proposal was accepted by the Unicode Committee in November 2015.