[whatwg] <blockquote cite> and <q cite>

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis bhawkeslewis at googlemail.com
Wed Jan 3 17:34:59 PST 2007

James Graham wrote:
> FWIW, I know, offhand, the ISBN of exactly zero books (whereas I could 
> probably quote from several). Therefore it would take considerable 
> effort for me to find the ISBN of a book I was quoting (I would have to 
> spend time looking it up on the book or online somewhere), then more 
> effort to carefully copy the human unfriendly string into whatever tool 
> was demanding this apparently superfluous information. I would imagine 
> that "three seconds" is an underestimate of about an order of magnitude.

And then Julian Reschke chipped in by suggesting that "Amazon will tell
you" so that "30 seconds sounds more reasonable"!

What are you guys talking about? You've got this exactly backwards: you
don't consult online services to find out ISBNs (although you can); you
use ISBNs to find books on online services.

Let's try a little experiment. I have here a stopwatch. I go over to my
bookcase, close my eyes, stick out my hand and take the first book I
touch from the shelf. I place it beside my keyboard. I start my


Time taken: 7 seconds. How did I accomplish this astonishing feat? 

Since ISBN became an international standard in 1970, most books
published for mass distribution in developing countries have been
assigned an ISBN and marked with it. Typically, you'll find it either on
the back cover with the barcode or on the front leaves with the other
publication information, or (most usually) in both places, helpfully
labelled as "ISBN" and hyphenated. Wikipedia has a handy illustration:


In other words, for most books published in the last 37 years it's easy.
And if it isn't easy, then the book probably doesn't have an ISBN

You can enter ISBNs straight into the search box at Amazon.com, if you
like. Try it with 0-520-24073-1.

As another experiment, I'm just going to type the plain text citation:

Joan Roughgarden, Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality
in Nature and People (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2004).

Time taken: 36 seconds. No markup, no styling. Now let's try something
like what hCite may turn out to be:


I'll mark up author, title, place of publication and date.

<cite class="hcite"><span class="author"><span class="vard"><span
class="fn">Joan Roughgarden</span><span>,<span class="title">Evolution’s
Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People</span>
(<span class="publicationPlace">Berkeley and Los Angeles</span>, <span
class="published" title="2004">2004</span>).</cite>

Time taken: 1 minute, 59 seconds. And yes, if you've eagle eyes you'll
have noticed I still managed to:

1) mistype vcard;

2) mess up the end <span> tag for <span class="vard">;

3) forget to add an end </span> for <span class="author">;

4) miss out the space between the author and the title.

So that will be non-conformant, unparsable, and typographically
illiterate. Three cheers for the wonders of hand-coding. ;)

And if typing 10-13 digit numbers still sounds like too much hard work,
the state of the art is to dangle a book in front of your webcam and
have your software grab its details of the web's bibliographic

ISBNs may be all very well for modern books, I here the sceptics among
you cry, but what about all the other stuff on your shelves, from before
1970? Let's conduct another experiment. I return to my bookshelf and
pull out the mustiest, most obscure book I can find. I open it up
gingerly; it's trying hard to fall to bits. ISBN? Hah, this relic of
ancient days doesn't even have a publication date. But it has an author
and title, and that's all I need. I bang "emerson gem" into the search
form at http://worldcat.org/ , and I get back 6 choices.


I identify the right volume by looking at the publisher's name: "Lacey".
And here it is:


The source includes an embedded OpenURL Context Object (look for the
span with class Z3988).

I suggest you guys confirm these highly scientific results with
experiments on your own bookshelves. ;)

James Graham reports from the front that: 
> I've never met anyone who enjoys filling in BibTeX citations, for
> example and that is of comparable difficulty to the process you
> advocate

The difficulty of filling in BibTeX citations rather depends on whether
you do it by laboriously by hand or whether you use software that will
query library databases for you and autofill most of the data.

As for people enjoying filling in citations, I've already pointed to two
communities crazy enough to /pay/ for the privilege of doing so: the
customers of LibraryThing and Delicious Library:



Some of you seem to worry I propose forcing people dig up information in
which they have no interest. On the contrary, I see people cataloguing
tedious metadata, or struggling to find where quotations came from, and
want software to do it for them.

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis

More information about the whatwg mailing list