[whatwg] on bibtex-in-html5

Simon Spiegel simon at simifilm.ch
Sat May 23 10:13:54 PDT 2009

Sorry, for my intrusion on this list. I realize that it's cheeky to  
come to a list only to rant about a specific detail, but I feel that  
more support for Bruce's position is needed. Just a bit about my  
background: I don't have any technical training or expertise in  
software or programming. I'm a scholar in humanities (film studies and  
German literature) and wrote my PhD thesis in film studies using  
LaTeX. Although I'm not a programmer by any means, I consider myself  
an 'advanced user' and quote well informed in terms of bibliographic  
software. There aren't a lot of bibliographic softwares or other  
solutions I haven't had a look in the last couple of years.

After this introduction, let me just state one thing: To base any kind  
of future software on BibTeX would be really like using ASCII instead  
of UT8. Yes, it's really that bad. BibTeX is now almost 20 years old  
and its shortcomings are well known and have been discussed endlessly.  
It has an extremely limited model which basically only covers English  
speaking sciences. As soon as you leave this area (like I have to do  
daily), you're out of luck with traditional BibTeX. Sure, there are  
all kind of extensions, but most of them are limited as well and none  
of them is standardized. I just say ‘bookauthor’. Until recently, no  
BibTeX supported this field, although it's really a basic thing for  
humanities (Now, if anyone asks why you would need a 'bookauthor'  
field, I have only one thing to answer: Find out what is needed in  
different disciplines before settling on a standard).

It's a sad fact that the same mistakes are repeated over and over  
again in the area of bibliographic software. It seems like a natural  
law that every new software solution dealing with bibliographies  
always has to start with an extremely limited set of fields like  
BibTeX. It took nearly two decades until biblatex got rid of most of  
the basic shortcomings of BibTeX, but somehow other projects don’t  
seem to learn from this. It doesn't have to be this way. The problems  
of the existing solutions are known, alternatives do exist. So please  
hear my plea: Don't go with an ancient model whose shortcomings are  
well known but use something modern instead. If you absolutely have to  
use BibTeX, please use at least biblatex which covers most of the  
problems of traditional BibTeX.

Simon Spiegel
Steinhaldenstr. 50
8002 Zürich

Telephon: ++41 44 451 5334
Mobophon: ++41 76 459 60 39


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