Are the semantic inline elements really useful? (Re: [whatwg] What exactly is contentEditable for?)

Jasper Bryant-Greene jasper at
Tue Aug 30 14:04:49 PDT 2005

Henri Sivonen wrote:
> Could the user interface difficulties with this semantic inline elements 
> stem at least partly from problems with the semantic inline elements 
> themselves?
> Consider <cite> for example. What's it really good for? Why should an 
> author bother to use <cite> instead of <i>? Once you have learned to 
> press command-i (or ctrl-i), why should you have to learn to do 
> something else when all you really want to get done is to italicize 
> titles of works?

<cite> is good for citing another work.

> I think making the case for <cite> fails the explaining to mother test. 
> Chances are that  there is something wrong with <cite> if I don't know 
> how to explain to my mother why she should use it instead of the 
> semantically empty italics. I cannot come up with any tangible 
> advantages. And I have been able to make the case for paragraphs and 
> headings.

I can come up with several. Although you may think it unlikely now, you 
may like to change the styling of your cited works at some point in the 

You may also like to loop through <cite> elements in JavaScript and link 
them to an external database of works, or generate a reference list. 
These are just examples of the huge advantages of using meaningful 
semantic elements instead of presentational elements.

> [snip]
> Aside: Now that I looked at the source of the literature list, I noticed 
> that some titles of works were marked up as <em>. my hypothesis is that 
> after an upgrade Dreamweaver has started using <em> when pressing 
> command-i. Sigh. See

> P.S. Using <cite> and <code> is relatively easy with OOo Writer/Web but 
> not as easy as pressing command-i. I have used <cite> myself when 
> writing using OOo Writer/Web, but I admit I should consider the 
> motivation rather cargo cultish.

The fact that your preferred editor does not offer a predefined keyboard 
shortcut for using proper semantic elements is not an excuse.

Jasper Bryant-Greene
Freelance web developer

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