[whatwg] What to say about <cite> (was: Re: Joe Clark's Criticisms of the WHATWG and HTML 5)

Henri Sivonen hsivonen at iki.fi
Wed Dec 12 03:32:50 PST 2007

On Dec 11, 2007, at 12:53, Ian Hickson wrote:

>> I am still on the fence about using <cite> in my thesis. Currently  
>> I am
>> using it to mark up titles of works.
> Any advice as to what the specshould say on the matter is welcome;  
> in fact
> I have a whole folder of such advice that I'll be addressing in due
> course.

  * Considering that mere presentation-level implementation in visual  
UAs is ubiquitous and needed for Support Existing Content, UAs will  
have to continue to italicize <cite>.
  * Considering that content authored to HTML 4 may be syndicated or  
otherwise repurposed into an HTML5 site template, it doesn't seem  
productive to require the removal of <cite> from such content. Hence,  
<cite> should probably be kept as conforming part of the language.
  * Considering the default presentation of <cite> since the dawn of  
time, the example in the ancient IIIR draft and DanC's IRC  
statement[1] about the original intent, I think the element should be  
defined [at least primarily] as meaning title-of-work. See §7.133 on  
page 284 of CMOS 14th ed.
  * Considering the misguided over-general definition in HTML 4, the  
definition in HTML5 should probably contain some weasel words to allow  
those who read the HTML 4 definition to use <cite> for personal names  
without getting into flame wars.
  * Considering that during the existence of <cite> in some form in  
HTML, no compelling semantic mining use cases have emerged where the  
semantics miner and the document author weren't in tight collaboration  
(or the same person as in the famous diveintomark.org case) and  
considering that the default presentation of <cite> is biased towards  
publishing styles close to that documented in CMOS, I think the spec  
should be worded not to require titles of works to be marked up as  
<cite>. Specifically, the spec should say something that'd protect  
authors who don't mark titles of works as <cite> (for whatever reason;  
tool support, i18n considerations, whatever) from time-wasting  
flamewars. (I could not come up with any good story explaining why my  
mother as a page authors should make an effort to use <cite> instead  
of whatever command-i produces in Dreamweaver.)

So that leaves that spec should say that <cite> is part of the  
language. If it helps the styling goals of the author, it's OK to mark  
up titles of works as <cite>, but it is OK not to mark up titles of  
works as <cite>. Plus some weasel words that effectively allow markup  
up names of people as <cite> but doesn't suggest that authors do so.

Let's see what spec text could look like:
The cite element represents a title of work. Sometimes it is used for  
personal names. The use of the <cite> element is optional: titles of  
works (and personal names) may be communicated without any particular  
markup or may be marked up as <i> or <b> in order to adhere to a house  
style that requires italicization or bolding.

(The personal name weaseling part is not particularly good. I have a  
hard time figuring out how to deal with the HTML4 semantic legacy here.)

[1] http://krijnhoetmer.nl/irc-logs/html-wg/20070607#l-797
Henri Sivonen
hsivonen at iki.fi

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