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I recently ran across this edit, which included changing the double quote character one gets when typing on a keyboard (Unicode U+0022 Quotation Mark) to “ (U+201C Left Double Quotation Mark) and ” (U+201D Right Double Quotation Mark), and the apostrophe generated by typing (U+0027 Apostrophe) to ’ (U+2019 Right Single Quotation Mark). Titles of questions in German are also edited to replace U+0022 Quotation Mark characters with inward guillemets (» and «)1. This is what word processors do presumably to make the text more aesthetically appealing. Currently, the following warning appears on the Edit page:

We welcome all constructive edits, but please make them substantial. Avoid trivial edits unless absolutely necessary.

Aside from the link to Leo (which the user didn't have enough reputation to include), the formatting change from code to italics, and the fact that a right single quotation mark is semantically different than an apostrophe, what's the value of such an edit? What what edits are "absolutely necessary"? If it were important, the site could decide to convert and/or render the characters in question in the "improved" version automatically without the need for human intervention, thus saving editors (particularly its more engaged ones) an enormous amount of time.

As a new user coming from Stack Overflow, reputation is used to gauge a user's standing on the site, not whether they can perform menial tasks that a computer can do faster and are only intended for aesthetic reasons. In this sense, I find reputation gained from such edits to be a misrepresentation of the user's standing. This was cleared up by @chirlu in the comments: "High-rep users who have the edit privilege don’t get reputation for their edits." However, a low-rep user could conceivably gain reputation with such edits, so this question really focuses on the hypothetical case of users amassing rep through repeated edits like these.

I don't know the editor or how many edits like the one linked there are, but just looking at the OP's history alone yields another example of such an edit. Looking at the open questions yields an example of the guillemet edit. As a programmer, I struggle to understand why someone would spend so much time and effort on something like this, but I'm happy to be enlightened.

Edit

I'm perfectly fine with ruffling some feathers with my question and my statements about how I perceive such edits personally. That's a sign that people feel strongly about this, and that's a good thing. However, what's important here is that the community can reflect, have an open discussion and reach some level of consensus. So, if you have an opinion about why this should or shouldn't be the case, then please compose an answer which addresses why you feel this adds value and improves the question (or not) so that it can be voted on by others to measure its degree of consensus within the community.

Cheers.

1 : I pasted these from Wikipedia and haven't checked whether they match the actual character being replaced in questions.

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    Maybe this should be turned into a feature-request for auto-converting these characters. – hiergiltdiestfu Jan 12 '16 at 10:32
  • I'm not advocating such a feature here. I'm asking what the value of such edits is and how they improve questions. If that's a feature that the community wants, it should be raised separately to find consensus. – ardila Jan 12 '16 at 10:36
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    the fact that a right single quotation mark is semantically different than an apostrophe – Check your facts. U+2019 is the recommended codepoint for an apostrophe. I find reputation gained from such edits to be a misrepresentation of the user's standing a) High-rep users who have the edit privilege don’t get reputation for their edits. b) Reputation is mostly a measure of activity, not of “standing”. E.g. bad answers generally result in a net reputation win because a single upvote is more worth than four downvotes. – chirlu Jan 12 '16 at 10:52
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    Possible duplicate of Do we really have to be extremely critical about spelling? – chirlu Jan 12 '16 at 10:54
  • @chirlu there are no answers to the proposed duplicate which answer this question, unless you're suggesting that "some users just have OCD" should be the answer to this as well? In which case, the question of value (which is basically the whole question) still remains. – ardila Jan 12 '16 at 11:04
  • From the answers: improves the average quality of the siteI feel distracted from the contents of texts containing spelling mistakes and I'm less likely to produce good contributions to them. – chirlu Jan 12 '16 at 11:16
  • Oh, by the way … the formatting change from code to italics (which seems petty) – It may seem so until you use a screen reader that will spell out the contents of a code tag. – chirlu Jan 12 '16 at 11:18
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    @chirlu I'm assuming you're quoting the Unicode spec? If so, it'd be lovely if you could include/link your source when challenging the accuracy of a statement. The fact that Unicode suggests U+2019 as "preferred as apostrophe" doesn't detract from its semantic difference to U+0027, and in fact is reinforced by Unicode noting that U+2019 is "context dependent", meaning that there is a semantic difference when it stands to close a statement or be used as an apostrophe. – ardila Jan 12 '16 at 11:23
  • @chirlu Secondly, if it is preferred, the it is the job of the implementer (the text editor of the site, in this case) to follow such a recommendation as the character is not available to the user on its keyboard. – ardila Jan 12 '16 at 11:25
  • @chirlu so, if I understand you correctly, you're claiming that the use of U+0022 over it's curly siblings is akin to a spelling mistake and consequently distracts the reader? – ardila Jan 12 '16 at 11:26
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    1. ' (and ") are legacy characters, only included in Unicode because they were in ASCII. 2. Automatic conversion of ' doesn’t work because it is ambiguous. 3. What is or is not available depends on your settings. „‚“‘”’ are certainly available on my keyboard. 4. Yes, it’s a typographic mistake and therefore distracting. – chirlu Jan 12 '16 at 11:44
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    @chirlu 1) They're present on major keyboard layouts and in current and extensive use in programming; I can't agree with your statement that they are "legacy". 2) That's completely outside the scope of the question, isn't it? 3) they're not on the standard US, UK, or German (DE or CH) keyboard layouts. Unicode explicitly says that "only U+0027 is present on keyboards" 4) You seem to have conveniently shifted from "spelling error" to "typographic error", which is not what the suggested duplicate is about. – ardila Jan 12 '16 at 12:00
  • I must say, you're taking this rather badly. And your edit to my question really shows. I'm disappointed to see the turn this question has taken, rather than an open, honest discussion about the value of the edits in question you seem to be reinforcing the view that such petty minutia is actually relevant and important somehow. – ardila Jan 12 '16 at 12:04
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    2. Your question mentions “tasks that a computer can do faster”, but admittedly, you only said “faster”, not “correctly”. 4. Your comment asked whether I consider it “akin to a spelling mistake”. So the “convenient” shift was done by yourself. – You don’t get an open discussion over the value of the edit by stating that these are “petty minutia”. – chirlu Jan 12 '16 at 12:14
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    What about shiftingh the lightweight discussion to chat and condensing the actual discussion points into answers, like OP suggest in his/her edit? – hiergiltdiestfu Jan 12 '16 at 13:19
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Since I was the user in question, I may add my thoughts on this issue, too, even though they don’t differ too strongly from Wrzlprmft’s.

I can’t remember whether I used to make such edits below the reputation bar that allows free editing of every post. I do know that I definitely overused that type of edit, e.g. to gain the archaeologist, copy editor or refiner badges. To gain any really notable reputation gain from edits would require tons of edits though — remember that 1000 rep would be 100 answer upvotes but 500 approved edits, so the reputation a typical user gains from upvotes will usually greatly outweigh that from edits. If it doesn’t, we may have to consider reputation farmers, but I think that we have appropriate measures to ‘deal’ with that type of issue.

The main reason why I decide to change those characters into other ones is beauty. I find the typographic apostrophes and quotation marks more appealing to the eye than the typewriter ones. That said, of course there is no requirement to use them, that would go way overboard.

Like Wrzl, many times I remove typewriter quotation marks in favour of italic or blockquote markdown rather than typographic quotation marks. And also, the single most frequent substitution is turning ' into .

I also try to respect what others seem to want used. If someone used the typewriter apostrophes in German texts, I replace them with Gänsefüßchen („“), whereas I would use Chevrons (»«) if some type of >< is used. And finally, if I have reason to believe the post creator be Swiss, I would use Guillemets the Swiss way («»). In English, I replace single with single and double with double. My personal preferences are Chevrons in German and single quotation marks in English, but I’m not going to force that on any post — save if required quotation marks are omitted altogether.

I sincerely hope nobody ever felt disrupted or anything by my edits. If they did, I humbly apologise and will make note not to edit their posts any longer.

As a side note, the entire process cannot be automated. It is already semi-automated in question titles and leads to English typographic apostrophes being used for German titles. And not even the type of apostrophe can be correctly predicted:

’Twas in the night before Christmas.

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    The main reason why I decide to change those characters into other ones is beauty. Thanks for your honesty! (and an otherwise beautifully composed answer) – ardila Jan 19 '16 at 14:12
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As one of the persons performing such edits, here are my rationales for these:

  • I would not edit a post only for making said replacements. It’s only a bonus to some more important edit.

  • When I edit, I substitute the majority of quotation marks with something other than quotation marks, namely blockquotes or italics. What exactly I use depends strongly on the context and cannot be automatised anyway.

  • The only mostly consistent replacement is to replace U+0027 (') with the typographical apostrophe (U+2019, ’). While this would be pretty secure for auto-replacing when occurring within a word (e.g., don't → don’t), it cannot be automatised well when occurring outside of words due to possible confusion with single quotation marks.

  • As elaborated here, you probably overestimate the effort going into tiny edits. Moreover, I have all the charcters in question directly available on my keyboard.

  • The main value of typographic quotation marks („“”»«) is that they distinguish between closing and opening marks, which enhances readability. In addition, guillemets (»«) are considered to be less disturbing than the other ones as they don’t stick out as much when skimming the text (which is something that we do a lot more than most people think), but are still clearly noticeable when actually reading the text.

  • Fair enough. Though I'll focus on your last bullet point as it answers the actual question of value –I've already said I'm not advocating automatizing replacements. The case where the editor is a high-rep user is clear; what about low rep users? Will edits that only include such character replacements be accepted or rejected? – ardila Jan 18 '16 at 8:04
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    Enhances readability sounds to me like "looks prettier", and of course what's readable is only a function of what you're expecting. If you're expecting it to look a certain way, it will bother you if doesn't, which is not the same as it being wrong in the first place. I'd guess that for the wider audience non-typographic punctuation on an internet website is so common as to be expected and therefore no less readable. It looks rather archaic to my eyes (esp. the guillemets), for example, esp. since the medium is a website and not print, but that may just be a cultural difference. – ardila Jan 18 '16 at 8:06
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    In the end, the people whom it bothers seem to be the same who are making the edits... Still, I'd admonish against going overboard as there is no upper limit to the argument that "you're improving the average quality of the site"; things like replacing II for Ⅱ, which I've seen here for Konjunktiv II, may actually hinder search engine results. – ardila Jan 18 '16 at 8:10
  • If you're expecting it to look a certain way, it will bother you if doesn't, which is not the same as it being wrong in the first place. – It’s not that easy. For example, what we consider orthographically right and wrong is mostly based on catering such expectations, otherwise we would be writing in phonetics (or something very close to it). And while readability is notoriously difficult to study, we can still deduce certain things. For example, additional information is good, if it does not come with too much baggage, and that’s exactly the bonus of opening and closing quotes. – Wrzlprmft Jan 18 '16 at 9:15
  • things like replacing II for Ⅱ, which I've seen here for Konjunktiv II, may actually hinder search engine results. – At least the most famous search engine out there does not distinguish between Ⅱ and II. (Also, in this particular example, there are much bigger problems when searching.) – Wrzlprmft Jan 18 '16 at 9:17
  • what we consider orthographically right and wrong is mostly based on catering such expectations, otherwise we would be writing in phonetics Spelling is one thing, but we're talking exclusively about glyphs representing the same character here. At least the most famous search engine out there does not distinguish between Ⅱ and II just an example meant to illustrate a wider concern –this is becoming a theme :) – ardila Jan 18 '16 at 9:43
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I don't see much value in typografic quotation marks. My keyboardsettings don't include such by default, and since I'm not in the literature-buisiness, I don't need them on a daily basis to remember shortcuts.

Afaik, there are even a lot of conventions, i.E. („ and “), the same horizontally mirrored, and (>> and <<) and mirrored again, more common in the US, in France, in Germany.

If somebody edits my posts, I don't roll them back. I live since 25 years with e-mail and classic "quotation" and didn't miss anything all the time.

If somebody is out for reputation -- that's fine. Btw.: I don't distinguish Viertelgeviertsstrich, Bindestrich, Trennstrich and other funky characters too -- the context almost always clarifies, how it is meant, doesn't it?

Automatic replacement should be avoided, at least in code blocks.

  • Thanks for your comments. I'm curious, is there a standard regarding the use of inward guillements (de: Chevrons) in German? The article on German Wikipedia says that „...“ is "standard" (whatever that means) and even refers to them "German quotation marks", but mentions that none of the official guidelines provide usage rules. The English Wikipedia article says that Chevrons are not used in Switzerland and even then, only for printed matters. – ardila Jan 14 '16 at 13:04
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    @aardila: this is what we know: german.stackexchange.com/questions/3075/… – Takkat Jan 14 '16 at 13:35
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    Automatic replacement should be avoided, at least in code blocks. Agreed. To reiterate, I'm not advocating such functionality. I was simply trying to illustrate that if such character replacements were so important, functionality to do that automatically (and in the process save editors a lot of time) is not a technical impossibility. Admittedly, as a programmer, I did not conceive that someone would actually want to be doing work that a computer could do, by hand and on an individual basis. My current reading is that some here actually like and find pleasure in making such edits. – ardila Jan 14 '16 at 15:32

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