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

James Graham jg307 at cam.ac.uk
Fri Jan 5 03:12:41 PST 2007

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis wrote:
> 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.

No I don't. At least I don't remember doing that a significant number of times. 
It's very rare that I've wanted to look up metadata for a book that I have in my 

What you might mean is that _other_people_ might want to look up metadata about 
a book that I have quoted. For subset of books the ISBN is indeed a compact 
identifier that can be used to find this data. Of course compact implies 
human-unreadable which is a problem if you require humans to enter it.

> 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
> anyway.

That timing assumes that I have the book that I am quoting from open on the desk 
in front of me. It is just as likely that I am quoting from notes I made e.g. 
for the case of a reference book in a library (in which case I could write down 
the ISBN, if one exists, but would have to do so in addition to writing down 
human friendly metadata like, say, the book's title and author which I could 
use to make sense of my notes), that I'm quoting from memory, that I'm repeating 
a quote from a secondary source (e.g. looking up a quote from /Hamlet/ in a book 
of Shakespeare criticism because it is easier to find), quoting from a book 
without an ISBN or doing number of other things which prevent the ISBN from 
being close at hand.

> http://microformats.org/wiki/citation
> 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. ;)

However hand coding is still the way that most documents, and certianly most 
semantically rich documents, are produced. People have been expecting "the tools 
to save us" forever but it still hasn't happened. I don't see why it will be any 
different for citation data, a subject about which most authors don't care a jot.

> 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
> databases.

Which webcam would that be? Using which software? I don't have those tools and 
neither do most authors.

> 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?

Sure you can find metadata for any book if you try hard enough. But that's not 
the question. The question is "why would authors bother"?. The fact that the 
process, as you describe it, is quite involved suggests the answer is "they won't".

> 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.

I use software (well specifically I can look up BibTeX entries on the web for 
everything I'm interested in citing, then it is just a few copies and pastes 
away from a working citation) and I still find it tedious and frustrating. I 
also know people who have the option of using tools like BibTeX and opt to enter 
all the citations by hand.

> 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:
> http://www.librarything.com/
> http://www.delicious-monster.com/
> 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.

Sure, there will be people who want all this data but expecting authors to 
provide it just because a fraction of users want it is unrealistic. For people 
who are prepared to put the effort in a microformat seems more appropriate than 
a complex set of elements in HTML core. Indeed even in the kinds of journal 
where citation data is important it seems the existing <cite> element is not 
used; I checked both The Astrophysical Journal and Nature and couldn't see any 
evidence for the use of the <cite> element. However Nature does seem to have set 
of microformat-like classes: cite-month-year; journalname; journalnumber; etc.

"Eternity's a terrible thought. I mean, where's it all going to end?"
  -- Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

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