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Racial diversity coming to emojis as character library gets a make over

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The nonprofit Unicode Consortium is proposing improvements to its emojis, expanding the character library to facilitate a range of skin tones that better reflects the diversity of mankind.

The consortium proposes Unicode Version 8.0 include five symbol modifiers that would change skin colors of emojis to either porcelain, olive, bronze, brown or mocha. The proposed skin tones are based on the Fitzpatrick scale, a standard in dermatology.

"People all over the world want to have emoji that reflect more human diversity, especially for skin tone," states the Unicode Consortium in its proposal. "The Unicode emoji characters for people and body parts are meant to be generic, yet following the precedents set by the original Japanese carrier images, they are often shown with a light skin tone instead of a more generic (inhuman) appearance, such as a yellow/orange color or a silhouette."

Even if a platform doesn't support the new range of skin tones, the intent will be conveyed through the modifiers. And if a font doesn't correctly combine an emoji with its intended modifier, the color will appear beside the character to show the user's intent.

While the proposed modifiers can be used to change the skin tones of multiperson emojis, forging an interracial relationship will take a tad more work. Users will have to chain individual emojis together, using the skin tone modifiers where desired.

The proposal to add new skin tones to the emoji library comes just months after the Unicode Consortium introduced 250 new characters, all of which bear the same skin tone. The current proposal is a change of sorts in the attitude conveyed by the consortium, after pointing to the difficulty of representing human diversity when it commented on the matter in July.

"There are many other types of diversity in human appearance besides different skin tones: Different hairstyles and color, use of eyeglasses, various kinds of facial hair, different body shapes, different headwear, and so on," the consortium stated. "It is beyond the scope of Unicode to provide an encoding-based mechanism for representing every aspect of human appearance diversity that emoji users might want to include."

A month before the Unicode Consortium revealed its proposal, image-hosting site Imgur announced it was time to update the GIF format. Imgur launched the GIFV initiative to push the Internet to evolve from the decades-old GIF format into a standard that delivers HD video loops at faster speeds than its predecessor.

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