There's been a minor brouhaha in certain circles over the past week or so about the applicability of good typographical practice on the web. The genesis of the rant seems to be John Gruber's nifty little plugin SmartyPants (for Movable Type and Blosxom 2.x weblogs), which restores some of the typographical niceties (true quote marks instead of inch and foot marks, em dashes, etc.) to weblog entries. Some have complained that these "special characters" break certain pieces of software. Others (rightly, IMO) argue that the "problem" is easy enough to fix in software, and that we ought not have to "ugly up the world" to work around broken tools. I happen to think it's great. I annoyed everyone within earshot of me back in the late 90's, extolling the virtues of QuickDraw GX's advanced layout capabilities, going nuts with automatic ligatures, properly justified text (including quote marks which hung beautifully outside the margins of text blocks, etc.) I despaired when Apple killed the project (in retrospect, it died from a combination of lack of printer drivers and Adobe's deliberate sabotage.) The good news is that all that goodness is available in Quartz (at least in the "enhanced" typefaces like Hœfler Text and Zapfino -- but it's still underutilized.) I digress, though...Sven-S. Porst (beautiful weblog, btw) writes about 'Special' characters:
Typography has been around for centuries. A lot of experience went into making things in a way that they're easy and pleasant to read. That's why we've got elaborate typefaces, special dashes, ligatures etc. Then, a few decades ago, there came computers – Allegedly smart machines that immediately threw typography back into the stone age. Hooray to monospaces fonts and character sets that are suitable for writing C code! I sense irony here – the bitter kind.
Not only is suggesting to not use them an insult to both the eye and those billions of people who can express themselves in something more subtle than C++, but it also doesn't make sense from a technical point of view.[Quarter Life Crisis]
Visual appeal is truly part of the "Fahrvergnügen" of the web. There's nothing at all wrong about striving to render readable, beautiful text (I know, I owe a redesign...) that takes advantage of the 400+ years of expertise that professional typographers bring to the table.
I know on which side my bread is buttered.
— John Heywood