[whatwg] the cite element

Jim Jewett jimjjewett at gmail.com
Wed Sep 23 09:00:36 PDT 2009

Smylers wrote:
> I wrote:
>> I think that gets at the root of the problem with cite.  Most people
>> don't read the spec, or even know where to find it.  cite isn't common
>> enough to just copy by example, and it turns out to be ambiguous as
>> the name of an element or attribute.

> But why would somebody be in the situation where they encounter <cite>,
> want to use it, but aren't sure where?

> Surely that's backwards?  Why would authors be trying to use elements
> for the sake of them?

I can assure you that I was revising papers to get the citation format
looking correct for years before I saw any actual rules.  Even those
professors who agreed on "use the APA format" didn't seem to interpret
it the same way, and I wasn't (at the time) sure where to get a copy
of those rules for myself.  I instead tried to copy from examples.
BigCorp business documents seem to be created the same way -- from an
example, or at best a template; the "rules" or "guidelines" documents
always seem to be both insufficient and wrong.

> I'd expect the more usual sequence to be an author typing some text,
> blissfully unaware of <cite>, then coming to the title of a book and
> wanting it to be styled differently so as to convey that to users, and
> looking for the element to use.

In that case, I would expect them to just use <i> and not waste time
looking for anything else.  Of those careful enough to look for
another element, I would expect the more common use case is

"I have to attribute this somehow"  (More concretely, they are careful
people who want to give credit, or they disagree and want to disclaim
the statement, or they are afraid of plagiarism charges, or they are
really arguing from authority.)

And that need is there regardless of whether or not "this" happens to be a book.

> If authors are spending time on using an element which has no effect on
> users (and Hixie's pointed out that in many cases where <cite> is used
> other than for titles of works authors use CSS to remove the default
> italics, to ensure that users don't actually have the presence of the
> <cite> conveyed to them) then there's no reason for HTML5 to continue to
> support it.

If they are merely changing the styling to some other distinctive
form, there is still reason to support it.  If they are truly going to
the effort of adding it, then working to make it indistinguishable,
that tells me the element is *very* important (if perhaps only for
bureaucratic reasons), and the problem is with the default styling and

(And of course, if the reasons are bureaucratic, all the more reason
to make a standard solution that can be easily verified or scraped
into a database, instead of forcing a human proofreader to check.)


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