2 Jun 2008 8 am eastern

Dear New York Times Mobile

Dear New York Times Mobile Edition:

While we applaud your use of typographically correct punctuation—a cause we ourselves have long advocated—we’d appreciate it even more if you would do it like professionals. Author in Unicode, the cross-platform standard.

Please stop using proprietary Windows characters in a bumbling, amateurish attempt to generate typographically correct open and close quotation marks. It doesn’t work cross-platform. Instead of nice quotation marks, the reader sees ASCII gibberish, making content harder to understand, and casting doubt on the credibility of the excellent reportage.

For less than you spent on WordPress, buy an iPhone or two, and let your editors and producers see what they are foisting on the public.

If you don’t know how to set quotation marks, we have tutorials.

If you know how, but your CMS is wrecking things, maybe it’s time for a new CMS.

[tags]nytimes, mobile, nytimesmobile, typographically, correct, typography, web, webtype, webtypography, unicode, windows, characters[/tags]

Filed under: Design, nytimes, spec, Standards, Typography

37 Responses to “Dear New York Times Mobile”

  1. nick said on

    Could you provide some images?

  2. Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The Daily Report said on

    [...] Dear New York Times Mobile UX Zeitgeist (beta) Fish tacos FTW nom nom nom Maybe that?s why they call them Kodak moments A Tweet Too Far ALA 259: Career and Content Flowers in your hair CSS Menu Writer debuts A List Apart saved from the deep Content precedes design [...]

  3. News Feeds - dVs-Systems.net Homepage said on

    [...] Dear New York Times Mobile Dear New York Times Mobile Edition: While we applaud your use of typographically correct punctuation—a cause we ourselves have long advocated—we’d appreciate it even more if you would do it like professionals. Author in Unicode, the cross-platform standard. Please stop using proprietary Windows characters in a bumbling, amateurish attempt to generate typographically correct open and [...] [...]

  4. Mau said on

    What do you expect?

    They have a rather cozy relationship with Microsoft. They released their beta ‘Times Reader’ and it requires you to have Silverlight in order for it to work… umm… no thank you. No links provided… purposely.

  5. David said on

    Oh… that’s a pity. I don’t have an iPhone but I do like the nytimes website. I really enjoyed the recent Talk to the newsroom feature with Khoi Vinh, the design director there.

  6. carl said on

    Well, aren’t you an elitist. :) It’s the web, get over it, read the paper.

  7. Design-Feed Latest said on

    [...] Dear New York Times Mobile Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The Daily Report | 35 minutes ago [...]

  8. AllenAyres said on

    I get LOTS of feeds in my google feeds with ascii gibberish for quotation marks and other characters (apostrophe’s, etc.). Not sure if it’s their feed’s issue or google, but most of those I read have been around a while and should know better, or at least try to read their own work once in a while.

  9. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Could you provide some images?

    Well, here’s one from the non-mobile version of today’s NYTimes.com:

    Gibberish characters - ’ - stand in for a typographically correct apostrophe

    In this example, the gibberish characters ’ stand in for a typographically correct apostrophe. A contributing editor or producer probably lifted the content from a Word document, and the system failed to properly convert it.

    I wasn’t looking for this mistake; I simply noticed it while reading the paper over lunch. Few mistakes like this creep into the browser version of nytimes.com, but the mobile version teems with them.

    Here is another:

    Another garbled character from nytimes.com

  10. Mike said on

    I never understood what was so wrong with the everyday quotation marks and apostrophes that are already readily accessible on your keyboard… /shrug

  11. Michael Zed said on

    Mike, a newspaper or book produced on a typewriter looks amateurish, like a church newsletter or grade-school project. Not always unacceptable, but the reputation of the NY Times should be supported by a professional standard of typesetting. Likewise its website.

    The problem here is not whether the NY Times should use typographical punctuation, it’s that they should make it work right when they do.

  12. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Mike, these may help:

  13. jg said on

    in my experience this is less a publishing issue than an authoring one.
    writers type their articles in Word, or any other current word processor, and paste it directly in to the CMS and hit publish.
    Trust me, the authors aren’t checking their content on a mobile app. Write, copy + paste, check in a browser, on to next article (or home for a beer) …

  14. Carey said on

    I think your screenshots show an even more complicated failure. The character ’ is U+2019 in Unicode, which is <E2 80 99> in UTF-8. In Windows, but not standard ISO-8859-1, 0xE2 is â, 0×80 is €, and 0×99 is ™. How a valid Unicode character got converted into UTF-8, then into its component bytes and finally into the most common Windows character set is beyond me.

  15. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    How a valid Unicode character got converted into UTF-8, then into its component bytes and finally into the most common Windows character set is beyond me.

    It takes a really expensive CMS to do something that special.

  16. Bernie Zimmermann said on

    Here’s an idea: why don’t we all stop using curly quotes?

  17. Maarten Verbaarschot said on

    Here’s an idea: why don’t we all stop using curly quotes?

    If you want your content to be good (and readable), you should pay attention to grammar and punctuation. Using curly quotes is part of that, so no, we won’t stop ;)

  18. Surabaya Memory - Petra Christian University - News Feeds said on

    [...] Dear New York Times Mobile Dear New York Times Mobile Edition: While we applaud your use of typographically correct punctuation—a cause we ourselves have long advocated—we’d appreciate it even more if you would do it like professionals. Author in Unicode, the cross-platform standard. Please stop using proprietary Windows characters in a bumbling, amateurish attempt to generate typographically correct open and [...] [...]

  19. Ben said on

    I’ve got a few books that don’t use curly quotes and when a lot of people are talking in rapid succession it gets real hard to keep track of what’s going on if it lasts for more than a two page spread. The publisher probably figured that since the books are based on a strategy game it could get away with poor typography, but at times it really takes away from the work the writer has done. They are really good books still, but some places I have to read over a few times just to figure out who is saying what. I don’t even want to think about what would happen if everyone just stopped using proper quotes.

  20. Neal G said on

    Ah, the lovely result of copying and pasting from a word document to an editor. This is probably one of the top 10 validation errors on the net. Let’s not forget the messed up word characters for ” – ” and ” ‘ “

  21. Scarf*oo said on

    It’s always about authors not knowing a thing about the web. Like jg said, most of them write articles in Word and copy-paste the finished thing into the CMS… which, of course, can’t possibly clean all the gibberish Ms throws inside that format.

  22. DCM said on

    Yet another reason I find the pervasive use of Word to be baffling. My wife uses this app in conjunction with EndNote for academic research, but short of that functionality, I totally fail to see the need for this application in day to day life. A simple text editor makes as much sense to me, and sounds like it may clean up some of these problems.

    I often consult on new Mac purchases, and invariably the first thing the client says they need is “Word”. When pressed about what they need it for, always it is ultra-basic needs, things that any halfway decent app like “textedit” for mac or similar handles flawlessly. Like composing a letter to Grandma, or even writing college papers.

  23. Irv said on

    At the risk of getting some heavy flames, I honestly think that Jeffrey should spend some time thinking about the serious usability issues with this blog/web page.

    It’s full of useless, ugly garbage comments in the form of back-links. I’ll provide a sample:

    ////////////
    [...] Dear New York Times Mobile UX Zeitgeist (beta) Fish tacos FTW nom nom nom Maybe that?s why they call them Kodak moments A Tweet Too Far ALA 259: Career and Content Flowers in your hair CSS Menu Writer debuts A List Apart saved from the deep Content precedes design [...]
    ////////////

    Yes, that’s probably good for popularity, business, SEO, etc. But how good is it for readers? After all, Zeldman.com, like A list Apart ARE businesses, like any other business. And Zeldman’s readers, directly or indirectly put the food on his table. So, I’d prefer that while the NYT tries to fix the glitches that Zeldman so rightfully points out, he (Zeldman) takes a hard look at his own messy living room…

  24. Jay said on

    Isn’t WordPress free?

  25. archivio immagini - psi_collettivo: student* PsicoAttivi Di roma! said on

    [...] Dear New York Times Mobile Dear New York Times Mobile Edition: While we applaud your use of typographically correct punctuation—a cause we ourselves have long advocated—we’d appreciate it even more if you would do it like professionals. Author in Unicode, the cross-platform standard. Please stop using proprietary Windows characters in a bumbling, amateurish attempt to generate typographically correct open and [...] [...]

  26. Warshaw said on

    WordPress uses TinyMCE to handle rich text editing, and if you enable the “advanced” mode of TinyMCE, you get a “paste from Word” button that allows you to slap Word text in there and have your mystery glyphs auto-corrected.

    I know most people won’t use it because it requires the extra step (not to mention altering the configuration of your rich text editor), but hey, it’s out there.

  27. Dave Rau said on

    Bad typography is bad communication.

    Z: I knew that header image looked familiar. Ha!

  28. Jeffrey Zeldman said on
  29. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    At the risk of getting some heavy flames, I honestly think that Jeffrey should spend some time thinking about the serious usability issues with this blog/web page.

    It’s full of useless, ugly garbage comments in the form of back-links.

    Right. I turned on the Kramer extension to WordPress to see what kind of commentary I was getting on third-party sites. Some of the third-party stuff one discovers is pretty neat. And a lot of it’s junk. It’s too early to say for sure that Kramer should be switched off again.

    In a redesign of the site, if I can find a way to pre-tag Kramer content, I might be able to separate it from the flow of “real” comments. Sequestered in its own little spot, and styled to call less attention to itself, it might work just fine. Before I make a design decision like that, though, I need to see what’s out there. Thus, I need to keep the Kramer plug-in switched on for a while longer.

    Thanks for your indulgence.

  30. Greg Bulmash said on

    A couple of iPhones cost less than WordPress? But WordPress is free. Where do I get these iPhones that are cheaper than free?

  31. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    A couple of iPhones cost less than WordPress? But WordPress is free. Where do I get these iPhones that are cheaper than free?

    The New York Times is an investor in WordPress.

  32. Times Emit: Apt’s links for June 6th said on

    [...] Jeffrey Zeldman Presents : Dear New York Times Mobile – Zeldman (and comments, in particular) on the joys of standardising typographically correct punctuation in CMS and browsers…. [...]

  33. Gabriel de Kadt said on

    I’m currently looking for the best way to get copy out of Word 2004 (for Mac) and into a CMS (WordPress and Drupal) with headings, bold, italics and “fancy” typography all intact.

    So far the only thing I’ve found that comes close is the “Paste From Word” function in TinyMCE – except of course it doesn’t do the “fancy” typography.

    I’ve no problem with Word as a text editor – it’s used by people that write much better at that than me – and hence paid to do so. Those same people — the writers, editors and proof-readers — are very comfortable with Word — not so with code.

    I’m just very confused as to why there’s still need for a typesetter in this digital-mix. Perhaps we should start an agency to get jobs for all those folk who lucked out back in the Eighties.

  34. Jeff said on

    If you know how, but your CMS is wrecking things, maybe it’s time for a new CMS.

    Man you should come down to the company I work for and shout that into their faces.

  35. John Niedermeyer said on

    We are re-writing the CMS from scratch, and will be rolling out section fronts over the next few months. Most people won’t notice much difference, but these pages will be UTF-8 encoded, without character entities, and the typography will be much more consistent and easy to read.

    I have no idea if that will carry over to the mobile site, but hopefully so.

    The old CMS has been a bear, but I always appreciated that at least the Times outputted curly quotes and em dashes… that’s more than can be said currently for CNN, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Salon, or most news sites. Even the otherwise well-designed New York Magazine and Slate are inconsistent.

    But it is tough—with most of these sites, you’re dealing with a main CMS, a blog CMS, and then you’re pulling in and displaying content from 3rd party feeds. Not an easy thing to do with an aging CMS—especially one that has to hook into the system used for the paper. (As for that, all I will say is that Microsoft Word is involved…)

    Anyway – look for incremental typographical improvements in the coming months.

  36. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    John, thanks for sharing!

Comments off.