February 22, 2003
Don’t get your quotes in a curl.
Some people, like Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing fame, hate curly quotes in web content. Other folks, like John Gruber over at Daring Fireball, can’t imagine ever going back to such a limited typographic palette as seven-bit ASCII. And while I can empathize with Doctorow’s technical issues concerning the glitch-inducing properties of typographically correct punctuation in RSS feeds, I support Gruber’s stance on encouraging the user of proper punctuation and enlightened typography within the blogging community. That being said, I personally avoid using curly quotes and other mainly because their consistent display across the vast spectrum of browsers is annoying at best. When they work, they look great. When they don’t work, it’s the textual equivalent of a train wreck. Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I’ll rant about the use of foot marks instead of apostrophes on signage or advertizing or in the media. I would never consider dumbing down my own design or correspondence on the printed page or the physical world, so why do I sacrifice that same aesthetic on the web? That’s a good question. If I could guarantee that everyone viewing a particular page of web content would see the same characters as they had been typed, then I’d consider using curly quotes and em dashes and other such niceties all over the blessed place. But guaranteeing character consistency across browsers (standards compliant or not) is like trying to guarantee that your layout will always appear the same. Sometimes, it’s better to settle for legible than for perfect. Simplified punctuation may not be beautiful, but you get the gist. We getting closer to browser-agnostic consistency, but we’re not there yet. Perhaps of there was a way to hide incompatible or undisplayable characters from non-compliant browsers — like a method of character replacement at a style sheet level — then we’d have a chance at solving this issue without sacrificing the typographic quality that we’ve come to expect and appreciate.
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