[whatwg] Footnotes, endnotes, sidenotes

Lachlan Hunt lachlan.hunt at lachy.id.au
Tue Oct 31 07:04:57 PST 2006

Ian Hickson wrote:
>>> * note and reference for footnotes, endnotes, and sidenotes (not 
>>>  aside in “HTML5”)
> If anyone has any ideas on this, please post them to the list. (The 
> CSS group is also looking at footnotes closely.)

It would useful to look at previous work and discussion on this issue.


Also, Wikipedia's markup for footnotes is good example of current 
practice and also a good use case for them.

This example came from the HTML article.

<sup id="_ref-0" class="reference"><a style="" href="#_note-0" 

<ol class="references">
<li id="_note-0"><b><a href="#_ref-0" title="">^</a></b> <cite 
class="book" style="font-style: normal;">Raggett, Dave (1998). <i><a 
href="http://www.w3.org/People/Raggett/book4/ch02.html" class="external 
text" title="http://www.w3.org/People/Raggett/book4/ch02.html">Raggett 
on HTML 4</a></i>. Addison-Wesley, chap. 2: A history of HTML. <a 
class="internal">ISBN 0-201-17805-2</a>.</cite></li>

The actual wiki markup might be a useful reference too.


As for sidenotes, the markup you've used in the spec are good examples:

<p class=issue>This section on the
   <code><a href="#tabindex0">tabindex</a></code> attribute needs to be
   checked for backwards-compatibility.

<span class=issue>We could make this into a string value that acts
   as a Hint for why the command is disabled.</span>

> One thing to consider when  looking at footnotes is "would the 
> title="" attribute handle this use case as well as what I'm 
> proposing?". If the answer is "yes", or "almost", then it's probably 
> not a good idea to introduce the new feature.

I really don't think so.  There are accessibility and usability issues 
with the title attribute.

* Screen readers don't read the title attribute by default.
* Tooltips are inaccessible (in current implementations) to keyboard 
users, they require hovering with a mouse.
* Users have no clear way of identifying which content has a tool tip, 
except for maybe abbr and acronym (which get a dotted border in FF).
* It's also limited to plain text, when even the example from wikipedia 
contains additional markup.

The first 3 issues could possibly be addressed by changing the 
rendering, but how do you identify a regular title attribute from one 
intended to be a footnote?  Would it be appropriate for all of them to 
be treated as footnotes?  I don't think so.

James Graham wrote:
> I think and distinction between footnotes, sidenotes and endnotes is 
> basically presentational and whilst we should try to ensure that 
> markup+CSS can create all three appearances we shouldn't treat them 
> distinctly.

I agree that the distinction between footnotes and endnotes is just 
presentational.  But I'm not so sure about sidenotes.  We'd really need 
to look at books that make use of them and see on what basis authors 
actually decide to use footnotes or sidenotes.  Do some authors use 
footnotes and sidenotes in the same book, or they exclusively choose one 
over the other based solely on presentation?

Also, it wouldn't particularly matter if footnotes ended up being 
rendered as endnotes in printed media (which is how exisiting browsers 
render the wikipedia-style markup) but it would be nice if browsers 
could render them as footnotes at the bottom of each page.

Lachlan Hunt

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