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I also wonder if this practice causes any confusion for search engine indexing, because essentially it's an open quote with no close quote.
When I compare my site's useability to 99% of the sites out there on the web, no, sorry, I'm not worried that somebody's screen reader will get slightly confused, everything else on the page is very clean and would make most handicapped etc users very comfortable, for the most part anyway.
and often a non-breaking space for formatting reasons:
[b]«[/b] Ceci n'est pas une citation [b]»[/b]
« Ceci n'est pas une citation »
It probably wouldn't have too much of an impact in terms of indexing, but it is a misuse of a quote mark for a different purpose. In most cases, a bullet point would be most appropriate. In browsers such as Firefox or Mozilla you can use CSS to replace the standard bullet point with the quote mark (which would become entirely visual and so would not affect screen readers), however IE6 does not support the CSS to be able to do this.
It's amazing what people care about, that's why it's usually just better to do what you like, and not worry very much about the particulars, for each person who hates something, there might be a hundred people who like it, whether its euro quotes, whatever, among things I'd spend time worrying about this would be very close to the bottom of the list.
The big deal about "code soup" of the recent past came from designing web pages just so they looked good in the browser -- no matter what kind of a hash it was making on the back end, whether of semantics or of wel-formedness.
And this current minor sin of appropriating typographic glyphs for purposes other than their intended meaning is a very similar thing. No, it's not so very big, but there is a small, real issue involved.
I blame it on the bloggers. [--he ducks--]
You gotta pick your semantic battles and this one is a goner for sure.
double spaces after periods
That convention came from typewritten documents -- that is, from monospaced fonts where a single space after a period became hard to see.
In electronic documents with variable-width fonts, adequate space "should be" designed in automatically by the font designer. So using a double space after a period in an electronic document was never consider a best practice, as far as I know. It was just a hold-over.
End of story really, since this is really just eye candy, once I made the effort to use the proper character, and it didn't work cross browser, I couldn't justify wasting more development time on it, the project needed to be done, and the euro quotes look perfect, and can easily be replaced at any point since it's dynamically generated, progression like the poster said above, actually works pretty well, nobody would ever mistake it for anything else.
Other things are just taste, that's what's so funny, one person freaks about using some character or group of characters because 'they don't like it', but that's just one person, another person 'likes it'. Value of either, irrelevant, normal users don't care, never have, and never will, as long as the point is clear and the document is readable.
Only designers and typesetters care about this stuff, nobody else does. By the way, the more you find yourself filled with passion on such question, the more you can know that you are actually a designer/typesetter/layout type person at heart, normal users, again, have never, and will never, care.
Obviously I care since I have an opinion about it in the first place, and actually think about correctness of separators, but that's a dead giveaway, I am the only one who cares [well, actually in the case of the euro quote separator, the client really likes it because it looks good, which it does].
Oh, I guess I contradicted myself slightly here, people do care, but all they care about is how it looks, nobody cares about the correctness or incorrectness of the character.
As I noted, my approach was not casual, but was working on a time restriction, test 'proper' solution, it fails, time's up, go on to real stuff that client actually cares about, like the site going live within a reasonable time frame.
Language doesn't have 'correct' and 'incorrect' useage, it changes, how it's used changes, how it's used in specific contexts changes... for example, if I EVER used the term LOL, or any other web abbreviation in polite, non geek company, I would get, absolutely correctly, total mockery and laughter heaped on me. Possibly also scorn and derision. But here it's ok.
If meaning is conveyed the language is functioning perfectly, if it isn't, it won't be used in that way again.
That's why I said that this is a totally esoteric conversation, of interest only to people like us. I try not to confuse what interests me with what is actually interesting to most of the world, especially with web stuff.