What to do when Ping.Fm adds text like “=?windows-1252?” to email posts

This morning I was posting a couple links onto Twitter and Facebook using my Ping.Fm account. This is simply done by sending an email message to my custom Ping.Fm email address and the subject line of my message is posted on the various services I subscribe to.

Today I intended to post the following message:
I agree, these guys even did better: – read “Ballmer’s tablet bumble” –

When I checked Twitter later, however, the following was posted:

And on Facebook, it looked like this:

I had seen this before and hadn’t had the time to stop and take a look at what was going on. This time was different – I decided to take a closer look at what was happening. Was this Ping.Fm doing this? Was it my email application?

On Ping.Fm, I looked at recent posts and the above post looked like this:

It seemed possible that Ping.Fm was causing this issue somehow – really, the email message I sent was simply text in the subject line. Right? actually, wrong. I used Gmail to send this message and when I opened the message and selected “Show Original” in Gmail – I was able to see what the raw subject line of the message was looking like. Here’s how Gmail sent it:

When I modified my message sightly to remove the ‘ in Ballmer’s name and send the subject of my message as:

I agree, these guys even did better: – read “Ballmer’s tablet bumble” –

This is what  “Show Original” revealed in Gmail:

So, clearly, when the message is sent with certain characters like the apostrophe – Ping.Fm is sent a bunch of legacy (Wikipedia) encoding details and can’t handle or decode it. I have also seen this problem when quotation marks are used twice. This same message sent to other mail readers, smart phones, etc seem to handle the encoding fine.

Since this happens extremely rarely, it’s probably not that pressing of an issue for Ping.Fm to fix. The trouble is that I (and other users) don’t know what character usage will force legacy encoding – essentially making it impossible to predict what message will cause this issue. If you use Ping.Fm, be aware of what you send. I see that they are working on a possible fix (more here), let’s hope they get it sorted out soon.

Update – Feb 4th 2010: I have encountered this a couple more times, and, in my frustration I’ve found an online conversion tool that will strip out the characters that cause this. Use this tool to clean your characters before posting. Go to the Character Set Converter tool and choose “ASCII” as your input encoding and “UTF-8” as your output encoding. Place your text in the box and click convert. Copy the resulting text into your email to and send it.I also found some more on this from Google at their help pages – what’s interesting is how they don’t mention Chrome on the page.