[whatwg] Bibliography Markup in HTML5

tjeddo tjeddo at gmail.com
Sun Sep 27 18:28:14 PDT 2009

I am surprised at how little concern there seems to be over the lack of
bibliography markup in HTML5. I mean, there is new language support
for an 'aside' section element but no 'bibliography' section element!?
Certainly a section element standardization intended to reinforce the
integrity of an author's published content deserves a little more
priority over support for standardizing aside sections (no disrespect
for 'aside's being a worthy language addition).

Now I am not arguing for the addition of a comprehensive bibliography
vocabulary as discussed in the topic of 'on-bibtex-in-HTML5';
although, I hope in the long run that this might happen. What I am asking is
that a lower-precision, pragmatic bibliography specification be considered for
inclusion in HTML5.

What follows is one approach for providing initial bibliography
standardization in HTML. I feel it may be low cost to implement, is
consistent with new additions to HTML5, and won't restrict extensibility
in the future towards a more comprehensive bibliography specification.

When looking at approaches for marking up bibliography entries I came across
the bibliographies in the HTML5 draft specification as well as the other W3C
specifications that seemed to use the same markup approach.

Here is an example bibliography entry from the HTML5 draft specification:

<dl> ...

<dt id="refsRFC5322">[RFC5322]</dt>
<dd><cite><a href="http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc5322.txt">Internet Message
Format</a></cite>, P. Resnick. IETF, October 2008.</dd>


Citing this entry in the main text from the same page is simply done using
an anchor element that links to the 'id' attribute of the 'dt' element:

<a href="#refsRFC5322">[RFC5322]<a/>

or, for example, if citing content on a specific page is to be specified

<a href="#refsRFC5322">[RFC5322, p. 5]</a>.

Note, If the author preferred, say, the MLA style, then they would just
change the displayed square brackets to parenthesis and omit the ", p. ".

Where am I going with this?

What if HTML5 specified this approach--except that in place of the <dl>
(definition list) tags, a collection of entries would be contained
between <bibliography> tags? That is, the above example would look as follows:

<bibliography> ...

<dt id="refsRFC5322">[RFC5322]</dt>
<dd><cite><a href="http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc5322.txt">Internet Message
Format</a></cite>, P. Resnick. IETF, October 2008.</dd>


The value here is the elimination of ambiguity and that a number of new
inferences can now be drawn by user agents.  With the <dl> tags, the
interpreting agent can only determine that there is a definition list
containing term/definition entries.  Whereas, in the context of a
new bibliography section element, user agents can unambiguously interpret
the 'dt' element to be the displayed content that humans identify a
bibliography entry by (e.g., "[RFC5322]" in the example given).
Additionally, in this context the 'dd' element would be defined to contain
"a representation of a bibliography entry." Of course, more concise
definitions for these elements occurring in the bibliography context should
be worked out.

The specification should not dictate the bibliography
style or encoding used within the 'dd' element--just that it contains a
representation of a bibliography entry.  This specification shouldn't restrict
a more semantically structured encoding of the bibliography entry should
a standardized approach emerge in the future--or an author choose to
use their own homegrown structured encoding and style. I believe this one
simple addition and specification of definitions would open up a number of
new possibilities for those who work with bibliographies.

Here are some of the pros of this approach:
* Reuses the 'dt' and 'dd' elements consistent with their reuse in the new
'figure' and 'details' contexts.  That is, how you interpret the content
of the 'dt' and 'dd' elements is dependent on the context they occur in.

* bibliography appropriately fits in with the new list of section elements:
article, heading, footer, section, nav, aside, bibliography

* Does not constrain a more comprehensive and concise bibliography vocabulary
that may be worked out in the future. Additionally, authors can provide their
own structured elements and CSS style to represent a bibliography element.

* Clear specification for marking up bibliographies would encourage
more Web authors to provide them. Standardized HTML markup for supporting
published claims might cause more readers to critically evaluate the claims
expressed in an author's writing when no sources are provided. This in turn
might encourage the more honest authors to provide bibliographies.

* Enables the possibility of support tools that traverse the Web to link
arguments with evidence encoded within HTML. Supports researchers.

If you made it this far reading, I appreciate your concern for this topic.
Please provide any constructive criticism, revisions, alternatives, or
general thoughts on this approach or the topic of bibliographies in HTML5.

Tim Eddo

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