Unicode is a character encoding standard developed to allow text from all written languages to be represented in computer text. It is, in a way, a universal alphabet full of all of the letters from all of the languages of the world, plus special use characters such as those used in phoenetic descriptions in dictionaries, plus some fun and funny icons thrown in for good measure. Whether you’re language is written left to right or right to left, or your copy contains English, German, and Malayalam characters, it can be represented in the Unicode system. Unicode is supported by most web applications and browsers. As you can probably imagine, some people on the internet have invented some novel uses for this system.

Obfuscation and underground scenesters

Some people creatively use Unicode characters to give a cryptic flavor to text copy or names. Others use it to manipulate systems and to make names hard to search for. In our SEO driven advertising web development world, it’s hard to think of a reason we’d want to be hard to search for. But, if you’re a cooler-than-cool underground band trying to keep your scene hard to search for and your name hard to type, weird Unicode characters may be your thing. The witch house music genre provides some great examples, with band names like GLSS †33†H and CVLSH‡†.

Security problems

There’s been much talk about how Unicode characters that look very similar will likely cause security problems for unaware users.

Famously Spotify fell victim to this kind of attack, where someone found that they could reset any existing user account password by creating a new account with characters that were symbolically equivalent. They could then reset their new accounts password, internal Spotify systems would translate that new account’s username to it’s equivalent ASCII user name, and reset the wrong account’s password. They’ve written a great blog summarizing what went wrong that day.

There’s also some concern about characters with very similar appearances in URLs. Bruce Schneier raised the alarm about this back in 2005, yet the issue remains. Can you tell the difference between these two URLs:  One points to a popular payment processor, the other to somewhere or someone else who may or may not be trustworthy. Can you tell which one of these is the correct URL?


Actually, in this context it’s pretty easy. The second has a character that looks like an “a” but it isn’t. But, if you received an email or were looking at a link and not paying close attention, it would be easy for a scammer to draw you into a site that you thought was PayPal by looking at the URL.

Glitch art and social media

Glitchr shows how far the medium of Unicode art can go on Facebook and on Twitter. Whether you like it aesthetically or not, you have to admit if nothing else they succeed at breaking the layout of the standard Facebook feed page. You’re not supposed to be able to do that, which makes it an interesting experiment testing the limits.

If you don’t mind digging through discussion threads a bit, there are some treasures in Reddit’s Unicode forums. Unique emoticons like ส็็็็็็็็็็็็็็็็็็็็็็็็็༼ ຈل͜ຈ༽ส้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้  and ◐‿◑ are some of my favorites.

Fun tricks you can use

You’ve maybe seen posts from someone who just found one of the many upside-down writing tools out there. “Stone Ward” becomes “pɹɐʍ әuoʇs”. That latin small letter reversed schwa sure looks like a backwards upsidedown “e” doesn’t it.

There’s also whole sets of wingdings, weather related icons, and other funny pics like ☮ . Check out the nice-entity.com list, and cut-and-paste into your emails, social media posts, or web content.