[whatwg] the cite element

Tab Atkins Jr. jackalmage at gmail.com
Thu Jul 9 13:33:13 PDT 2009

On Thu, Jul 9, 2009 at 2:51 PM, Brian
Campbell<Brian.P.Campbell at dartmouth.edu> wrote:
> On Jun 5, 2009, at 3:53 AM, Ian Hickson wrote:
>> I don't really understand what problem this is solving.
>> HTML4 actually defined <cite> more like what you describe above; we
>> changed it to be a "title of work" element rather than a "citation"
>> element because that's actually how people were using it.
>> I don't think it makes sense to use the <cite> element to refer to people,
>> because typographically people aren't generally marked up anyway. I don't
>> really see how you'd use it to refer to untitled works.
>> Thus, I don't really think it makes sense to make the change you propose.
> There are plenty of times when you want to mark up someone's name. For
> instance, if you're quoting someone in a testimonial, you may want the quote
> to appear in normal roman text, but the person's name who you are quoting to
> be in italic and right aligned:
> "Best value for the money!"
>          -- J. Random User
> I might format this as:
> <aside class="testimonial">
>  <q>Best value for the money!</q>
>  <cite>J. Random User</cite>
> </aside>
> aside.testimonial cite:before { content: "—" }
> aside.testimonial cite { display: block; font-style: italic; text-align:
> right }
> Here's an example of someone asking about this specific use case, of how to
> mark up a testimonial and its source:
> http://stackoverflow.com/questions/758785/what-is-the-best-way-to-markup-a-testimonial-in-xhtml
> (note that I don't believe the uses of <blockquote> mentioned here,
> including by me, are correct, as the citation actually refers to the quote
> rather than being part of it, but I think the use of <cite> is perfectly
> reasonable)
> The Mozilla Style Guide also uses formatting for <cite> that I believe would
> be appropriate for citing either a work or a person:
> http://www.mozilla.org/contribute/writing/markup#quotations
> Of course, it's generally preferable to cite a work, rather than a person,
> as then the citation can be verified; if you just include a person's name,
> you have to assume that they mean "personal correspondence" which is
> unverifiable, or simply that the work is left unspecified and someone else
> will have to track it down. But people do write quotes and attribute the
> quotation to the person rather than the work, and as HTML is about marking
> up content and not about enforcing academic standards, I don't see why HTML5
> should be adding this unenforceable restriction that doesn't seem to add
> much value.
> I wonder if there is value in specifying the semantics of elements like
> <cite> in much detail, in cases where there is no way to automatically
> verify those semantics and there is no use case for machine processing of
> those semantics. It seems that whatever the definition of <cite> is, you're
> going to need to use a microformat or microdata or RDFa to actually provide
> semantics that are machine-readable, so the spec should be relatively loose
> and leave the precise semantics up to one of the more flexible systems for
> specifying semantics.
> -- Brian Campbell

FWIW, in the corporate sites I control I mark up testimonial
quotations using <blockquote> and <cite>, like this:

  testimonial testimonial testimonial
  <cite>Joe Sixpack</cite>

This gives a good default display in the absence of CSS, and I modify
it a bit further for myself (making <cite> display:block and adding a
::before glyph to it).

This seemed like the most reasonable solution at the time.  I settled
on this before the <cite> discussion on this list.


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