[whatwg] Problems with the definition of <cite>

James Graham jg307 at cam.ac.uk
Wed Jan 17 10:33:41 PST 2007

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis wrote:
> James Graham wrote:
>> So, to summarise, <cite> is insufficient for extracting useful semantics
> That's not a fair summary: see the example I gave to Anne van Kesteren
> of getting back to a Hamlet scene text from <cite>Hamlet, I.ii</cite>
> with a mere Google query.

Using the <cite> attribute to link to a search page is at best almost-useless 
and at worst damaging and confusing. It's almost useless because I can perfom a 
search myself with very little effort (for an ordinary default-engine search of 
some text on a page with firefox it takes 4 clicks, including one to change to 
the tab it opens on). Therefore I don't see this as a process that needs 
optimisation. It's also deeply confusing (why does this book title link to a 
search rather than just a page containing the book details?) and is likely to be 
abused by authours if they want a link to a search for some reason.

> It would be more accurate to see <cite> could
> be improved upon. IMHO it would be nicer to have real elements in HTML
> for detailed bibliographic elements, but that goes against the general
> consensus that we should shift detailed semantics into
> microformats/roles.

So, if we accept that full bibliographic data will only be accepted as a 
microformat, does <cite> have enough value to warrant keeping it? If the best 
use case we can manage is "it could link to a search for the source" I would say 
the element is worthless.

>>  and has a (essentially unchangable) default style
> It's not unchangeable at all. Browsers and users can set a different
> default style on it; HTML5 can even suggest a different default style.

I suspect that browser makers would be unwilling to implement this change since 
there are probably a fair few sites that depend on <cite> being italic to look 
as the author intended and, as far as I know, major browsers have essentially 
interoperable default style sheets so making this change would "break" sites 
compared to the competition.

> Deprecating <cite> wouldn't solve any problems, as far as I can see. How
> would you connect <q> or <blockquote> to a particular hCite block?

Possibly, I wouldn't. I don't see a huge market for the type of feature that 
could provide. Indeed in many cases where citations are important there is no 
direct quote to match the citation (almost all scientific papers fit this 
model). But, accepting that some people think this is very important, I don't 
see how a <cite> element that is not part of the microformat helps here - unless 
sandwiching stuff in <cite> without the microformat filling can itself lead to 
the development of worthwhile UA features.

"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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