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LittleBITS: Notes from Ukraine, TidBITS Talk Emoji Responses

I recently exchanged email with a friend of TidBITS in Ukraine and couldn’t resist sharing her response here, along with an explanation of how you can now respond to TidBITS Talk posts with emoji, much like Apple’s Tapback feature in Messages.

Notes from Ukraine

I recently received email from Irene Stepanovska, who I’ve known for many years in her PR role for BeLight Software, telling us about the release of Art Text 4.2. After passing the news on to Agen Schmitz so he could write it up for the Watchlist (see “Art Text 4.2,” 15 December 2022), I asked Irene how she and others at BeLight were holding up. It may seem like business as usual from the outside, but I had to share her description of what life is like for her and her fellow Ukrainians:

A large part of our team remains in Odesa. We are holding up, developing our apps, and supporting our country, armed forces, and our people. Just like any other city or small town in Ukraine, every day we experience the consequences of the cruel and inhuman Russian war against our country and civilians. There have been power outages for several weeks. Now most of Odesa’s population has electricity twice a day for 3–4 hours. Sometimes, after massive attacks, people don’t have electric power for several days, and some don’t even have central heating and water. This is a complete nightmare for those who don’t have gas in their houses and use electric stoves and ovens to cook food. We are thankful to the technicians who are working 24/7 fixing everything as quickly as possible in spite of massive damage. We fully understand this is the price for our freedom and future victory.

As a coda to Irene’s email, I recently ran across this article from the Los Angeles Times about how Amazon has helped the Ukrainian government move essential data into the cloud, which, as Liam Maxwell of Amazon noted, can’t be taken out with a cruise missile. That’s an aspect of cloud security I suspect most of us have never considered.

New Reactions Emoji for TidBITS Talk Posts

In “Messages Becomes More Flexible and Forgiving of Mistakes” (27 October 2022), I mentioned that I’ve become fond of Apple’s Tapback feature in Messages, which lets you send emoji-like responses to messages as quick, non-textual acknowledgments. To simulate that sort of quick response in TidBITS Talk, where it’s annoying to have someone ask a question and then thank everyone with a separate short post, I long ago installed the third-party Retort plug-in into Discourse. With it, users could react to posts with any emoji they wanted instead of just the default “like” feature behind the heart icon. We saw a lot of 👍 and 😁, along with a few other emoji.

So when longtime TidBITS Talk reader Jolin Warren pointed out recently that the Retort plug-in had been deprecated in favor of the official Reactions plug-in, I made the switch. You can still click the heart icon under a post, but if you hover over the heart icon briefly, you can instead choose from a custom set of other emoji. After discussion with involved members of the TidBITS Talk community, I’ve settled on the following options, with an explanation of what I think each one means.

  • ❤️ is the default, and I see it as a simple way to say, “Good post!”
  • 👍 may seem quite similar to ❤️, but I intend it to mean something more specific: “I agree with what you said in this post.”
  • 💯 is intended to be the superlative of ❤️, in the sense of “This post is both entirely correct and utterly helpful!”
  • 🙌 means “Thank you!” and is a quick way to show appreciation for assistance.
  • 😁 lets you mark a post as being amusing. ‘Nuff said.
  • Apple six colors logo is a custom emoji we added called “apple-six-colors.” Use it to express, “Yay, Apple!” or “Steve Jobs would have loved this.”
  • ❓ exists so you have a way to note that you found a post confusing.
  • 👎 lets you indicate that you disagree with a post without going into details.

You’ll note that the first four provide different shades of being thankful, appreciative, or supportive. That’s intentional because TidBITS Talk is that sort of community, but don’t read too much into the nuance. It’s there for those who, like me, would be linguistically uncomfortable with jamming all those meanings into a single ❤️.

The ❓ and 👎 sit elsewhere on the spectrum, providing a quick way to indicate that you don’t understand what someone is saying or show that you disagree with their post. I hope that they won’t be needed much and that those whose posts receive them will read them as constructive criticism. Give these response emoji a try and see how they feel.

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Comments About LittleBITS: Notes from Ukraine, TidBITS Talk Emoji Responses

Notable Replies

  1. Big :+1: to Irene Stepanovska and her fellow Ukrainians. This is not the first time I read such an account (and thank you @ace for forwarding). But these accounts all strike me in the same manner. The grace and determination with which these people stand up to barbarism in the face of all-out war is impressive.

    I cannot imagine what their life must have turned into during the past year, but I am thoroughly impressed with their dignity and their perseverance. I hope for us all, they emerge victorious and once again free from tyranny.

    I tip my hat to you brave people. You are setting one heck of an example for the rest of us to live up to. :muscle:

  2. The first thing the United States did in its wars with Iraq (in both 1991 and 2003) was to take out the power grid, with lots of attendant civilian casualties. The Iraqis were not lucky enough to have quite the communication and integration with various Western communities as do the Ukrainians. They did not have the same publicity but surely similar levels of suffering.

    This is not in the least to justify or defend the Russians – not whataboutism to let them off the hook. It’s to point out that if you live in the United States, you live in a country that commits similar levels of violence when its government feels it necessary. Something to think about the next time the US contemplates going to war, if less comforting than the easy good/bad of the Ukrainian/Russian conflict.

  3. As much as I don’t want the discussion to devolve into the details of or potentially contentious comparisons of geopolitical conflicts, I appreciate what I see as the larger point here — that war is hell and should be avoided if at all possible. Perhaps the way that interconnectedness of today’s world brings home the impact of war on people just like us will help the leaders of tomorrow work to prevent it from happening.

  4. I confess that when presented with the list of emojis at the bottom of a post … I can’t remember what they all mean. :pleading_face::weary::scream:

    Currently, the tooltip that displays when the cursor is placed above each emoji displays a description of the emoji (as usual).

    Is there any way to get it to display (some portion of) these intended meanings (instead or in addition):

    • :heart: is the default, and I see it as a simple way to say, “Good post!”
    • :+1: may seem quite similar to :heart:, but I intend it to mean something more specific: “I agree with what you said in this post.”
    • :100: is intended to be the superlative of :heart:, in the sense of “This post is both entirely correct and utterly helpful!”
    • :raised_hands: means “Thank you!” and is a quick way to show appreciation for assistance.
    • :grin: lets you mark a post as being amusing. ‘Nuff said.
    • Apple six colors logois a custom emoji we added called “apple-six-colors.” Use it to express, “Yay, Apple!” or “Steve Jobs would have loved this.”
    • :question: exists so you have a way to note that you found a post confusing.
    • :-1: lets you indicate that you disagree with a post without going into details.
  5. No, sorry, there’s no way to provide the cheat sheet. It may be that we’ve gone overboard in the nuance of having different ways of expressing approval.

  6. I haven’t been a huge fan of :heart: myself but if it’s default and can’t be removed and you want to weed it out some, it could make sense to just get rid of :+1: and :100:. That would — apart from :raised_hands: :question: :grin: which I all like — leave just one for approval, one for disapproval, done.

  7. Yeah, we can’t remove :heart:.

    The big reason I’m leaning toward removing the non-heart approval emoji is that when they line up at the left, it requires a fair amount of thinking to figure out what people have implied using them.

  8. Is there a way to provide custom tool-tips for the emojis?

    For example, on NextDoor, it looks like:

    Screen Shot 2023-01-02 at 18.29.40

    Hovering over each icon shows the intended meaning:

    • Heart = Like
    • Smile = Thank
    • +1 = Agree
    • Laughing smile = HaHa
    • Astonished smile = Wow
    • Blue smile = Sad

    Can something like that be done here? Or would that require renaming the characters themselves (and probably breaking their usage elsewhere)?

  9. Not as far as I can tell, but it would be a good suggestion for the Discourse folks. I could see another column in the settings that would let you assign your preferred term.

  10. But how do you display “apple_six_colors” then?

    I presume that the 6-color apple is an image, not an emoji. Instead of using emoji characters, can all the ratings be images, each named in a way that indicates its purpose?

    UPDATE January 4, 2023 3:32 AM

    I see that the Apple Logo “” (U+F8FF) is a “Private Use Area (PUA) character that is supported on iOS and macOS. This character is not recommended for interchange as it is only intended for support on Apple platforms.”

    But the apple displayed here in TidBITS Talk is 6 colors, not black and white. So, I guess that you’re not using this emoji character for it.

  11. After fiddling with the page source, these glyphs appear to be drawn with the following css code, not just simply emoji:

    However it works, I can’t understand what is going on.

  12. That is the code of an SVG image, it’s not CSS code. NextDoor appears to use a mix of linked to .svg image files and inlining SVG code in the HTML. None of that helps with replicating having a word appear above the image when hovered, that happens because the word is already in the HTML and CSS is used to make it appear on hover.

    Anyway, as Adam suggested, it would be a feature request to make to the Discourse people. Giving the NextDoor UI as an example would be helpful but the implementation details would be up to the Discourse programmers.

  13. Oh, good eye. apple_six_colors is a custom emoji that I named, which would suggest that we could create custom emoji for each, with a custom name for each. A bit of work, but not terrible.

    Oh, wait, it looks like there might already be a solution to this:

  14. OK, everyone, try it now. I pulled the :100: emoji because it was just too nuanced.

    I’d sort of like to get them all on one line, but that would require removing another reaction.

  15. On my Mac Studio and Studio Display, they are on one line. But of course, iOS devices have much smaller screens, so I get what you’re saying. For me, they all seem to work and labeled as intended.

  16. I would vote the Apple logo off the island. Of the seven, that one has the least intuitive meaning to me.

  17. This is a big improvement, though I agree having more than a single row on my iPhone is annoying.

    As for which one(s) to vote off the island …

    I think that the criterion for selecting emoji should be the degree to which each provides feedback to the poster. With this in mind:

    • Is there a significant difference between :heart: (like) and :+1: (agree)? In other words, is it likely that someone would like a post but not agree with it? (If someone likes a post but doesn’t agree with it then isn’t a reply post explaining exactly what they like but don’t agree with more useful than choosing between the two?) I think one of them should go and I’d keep :+1: because it is obviously the opposite of :-1:.
    • I don’t think that the six-color apple (“6C”) provides feedback to the poster; it provides feedback to Apple, who is likely not a part to the thread. I vote 6C off the island.
    • I think that :raised_hands:t2: is more likely to be perceived as “agree” than “thanks”; in at least one dictionary high-fiving is a sign of celebration and there is no mention of thanks. Therefore, I’d use :pray: to indicate thanks. Yes, :pray: is also a sign of prayer but emojipedia lists “please or thank you” first in its explanation of the character.

    As always, just my 2¢.

  18. In another forum that I frequent the heart is “Love” and the thumbs up is “Like.” I suppose this kind of inconsistency from one forum to the next is to be expected.

  19. Heart and thumbs up are the same to me - I agree with the post. I will never love a post.

    Thumbs up (or heart, since you can’t remove it), thumbs down - that’s all I really need. As long as those are there, that’s fine with me. The rest mean nothing to me.

  20. My vote is for heart = love and thumbs up = yes or I agree; thumbs down = the opposite. Clapping = applause, 100 = 100%.

  21. I do see a difference between “I think you should read this” and “I agree with it”.

    There are some topics (especially ones involving politics and cutting-edge science work) where I may think it is important to know about a point of view that I disagree with. Because for these things, it’s important to know what all sides are saying, in order to form coherent arguments when writing about the subject, no matter what your opinion may be.

    But I will agree that such topics are less common on a technology forum like this one, where the focus is more on facts and less on opinion.

  22. Except I only read posts via email, so I never see any of these icons until I log onto the website (which I only do for posting as email posting sucks), so none of these are significant or useful in any way.

    Am I the only one who reads TT that way?

  23. That’s exactly my thinking. But my understanding as per @ace was that there’s no way to get rid of :heart: since it’s the default.

    Under those circumstances, I’d do away with :+1: just to keep things simple. I don’t need two ways to say I like a post.

  24. I do exactly the same. Reading on the web site doesn’t work for me; having messages arrive in email slots well into my workflow. But for posting, I go to the web site because otherwise you don’t see edits otherwise, and the formatting of posts via email is never what I want it to be.

  25. Yes, there is a default reaction but I don’t see any requirement that the default be any particular emoji.

    The description above of the plug-in says:

    These for 6 reaction buttons including the default which is on my site is :heart: .

    Likewise, the documentation says:

    To customize the reactions use the site setting discourse_reactions_enabled_reactions and define emojis you want as reactions separated by | eg: open_mouth|cry|angry

    And later:

    • discourse_reactions_enabled_reactions To define the list of enabled reactions, any emoji is allowed here. default: laughing|open_mouth|cry|angry|thumbsup|thumbsdown
  26. Nope, I’m the same. Maybe that’s why all of this doesn’t really matter all that much to me. I do like saying I agree with this post, I disagree with this post, but that’s all I really need.

  27. Good discussion, folks, thank you. I’ve dropped :apple_six_colors: from the list; although it was fun to learn about making and enabling custom emoji, it doesn’t really have much meaning.

    I’ll keep watching the use of :heart: and :+1: — I’ve been using :heart: as a way of rewarding posts that I think add to the utility of TidBITS Talk, and :+1: as a way of saying that I think the technical details in a post are correct.

  28. I like the way you frame that.

    But if you say :+1: is agreement whereas :heart: is meant to acknowledge utility to the forum, wouldn’t that already be covered by thanks :raised_hands:?

    (not trying to beat a dead horse here, just curious if it can be whittled down to the bare minimum)

  29. I do read emails I get alerting me to updates to threads I’m particularly interested in. And I appreciate that we can get those.

    But I then always go to the actual board through Mac Safari to read the entire thread or reply. I like to see all the meta data. Also email reply doesn’t really do it for me. Obviously, YMMV.

    To me these icons are actually useful. I also really like the idea of showing my appreciation through a little badge when another poster helps me figure something out. Sure I could write thanks, but unless there’s more to it than that, that just clutters the thread for everybody else. To me these little icons solve that issue in a very simple and clean way. Just my 2¢.

  30. Conceivably, yes, though I just can’t get past the fact that :raised_hands: doesn’t signify “Thank you” to me. Or, frankly, much of anything. I’d never make that gesture to indicate anything other than perhaps “I surrender!”

  31. Just to support @Simon’s point—this is exactly why I use the Web interface for reading and replying. Email is good for notifications, though I go back and forth on how many of those I want. But Discourse’s Web interface is really good, with lots of subtle little touches that I appreciate every time I hit them, and these emoji are just another indication of that.

    I’m essentially using the reaction emoji as a way of awarding points to posts that I think add to the community discussion in one way or another.

  32. I’m with you. I’m still not aware of a good icon for thanks.

    The raised hands thing :raised_hands: for me is not intuitive (rock concert?) and the other one :pray: to me just looks like religious service.

    Perhaps I should learn to adapt. Maybe this is a reminder that I’m getting old and need to put in active work to stay flexible in my mind. :smile:

  33. I’ve seen icons (like on Slack) with the just the words “Thank you” written out. That seems the clearest to me, but it may be hard to have small.

  34. Sorry, I missed this discussion as for some reason I wasn’t tracking this thread. But I have to say I’m fairly disappointed with how things turned out (with a small ‘d’ given this is fairly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things!). :pensive: My thoughts:

    • I still really dislike :+1:. Not because of the emoji, but because I think for many (most?) people, there’s no real difference in meaning to :heart:, it’s a personal preference. But :+1: doesn’t count towards the Likes stats, so if someone wants to simply like a post, it would be best to get everyone using the Discourse standard :heart:. I also think it’s cleaner to have a single emoji for “I like that you posted this”.

    • :100: to me is far more distinct, and I miss having it. :heart: and :+1: mean “I like this post/great post”, but not necessarily that one agrees with everything in it. :100: is emphatic: “I couldn’t agree more, this is what I think too.”

    • :apple_six_colors: was just a bit of fun, which is part of the Mac/Apple spirit. Not everything has to be of imminent utility. It was nice to tag the occasional post with it. If it adds a bit of mystery as to what the person meant, that’s fine – it’s good to have some pauses in the day where you ponder the vagaries of life :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:.

    I’m not convinced that having all the emojis fit on one line on a phone screen makes any difference, but it’s largely a style choice, and this is @ace’s site. But if they need to be weeded down, I would much prefer:

    • remove :+1: as it doesn’t add anything beyond a stylistic difference to the reactions

    • reinstate :100: because it does add a distinct level of reaction/agreement

    • remove :-1: because we’ll do just fine without a negative reaction and importantly it creates space for:

    • reinstate :apple_six_colors: because it’s fun and harkens back to the days when TidBITS was founded

    [As a slight tangent:

    @Simon I think you’re already adapting – you used the :raised_hands: reaction on a post of mine 24 days ago, soon after it was available :grin:.]

  35. Thanks for the thoughts! Nothing is set in stone, but I’ve found that I need to live with it for a bit and see if it feels right.

    • :100: just didn’t feel right. Partly it’s the look—what does a number have to do with something, and I haven’t seen a grade on a test in 35 years, so it doesn’t evoke much. And I couldn’t separate it from :heart: and :+1: enough.

    • That said, :heart: and :+1: do seem to feel different to me. :heart: is a reward, it’s points for contributing, whereas :+1: feels more like “Yes, that’s correct.” or “I agree with what you’re saying.” without also implying the reward.

    • I certainly hope :-1: doesn’t get used much, and I haven’t seen that happening, but my hope is that it will head off some of the personal sniping when people do disagree with one another. Use :-1: and move on rather than arguing.

    • :apple_six_colors: is cute, but I just don’t know what it’s supposed to signify when applied.

    • And I’d still like a better Thank You than :raised_hands: or :pray:, both of which leave me cold.

  36. How about just a miniaturized “Thanks!”?


  37. Ah, the old 7-bit text trick—clever!

    Great suggestion. The hard part was finding a way of doing it that maintained some readability (on a Retina screen, at least) at the emoji size. There were various Thank You icons in speech bubbles, but they all became really hard to read when shrunk down. I think this :thank_you: works, though I’m open to alternatives if someone is enough of a graphics person to make one more readable at that size.

    We could also make it another color if that would help, though the black stands out against the other emoji pretty well.

  38. You’re welcome! Happy to help.

    The “thank you” pops on the light interface but is a little hard to see on the dark interface. Maybe an orange color?

    This is fun.

  39. How about using the purple in the TidBITS logo?

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