[whatwg] the cite element

Jim Jewett jimjjewett at gmail.com
Fri Jan 1 19:22:30 PST 2010

Back around Oct 15, Ian summarized his objections to letting <cite>
refer to the primary source of the information, rather than being an
oddly named synoymy for <i class=title>.

> On Thu, 8 Oct 2009, Jim Jewett wrote:

>> > I hate to be so repetitive, but why is that beneficial? What is the
>> > semantic value of this?

>> You are welcome to say that argument by authority is so weak as to be
>> invalid, but it still happens.

>> Similarly, you are welcome to say that the academic habit of crediting
>> other authors (sometimes but not always for specific publications) is
>> silly, but it still happens.

> What I'm saying is that <cite> doesn't help with either of the above. It's
> quite possible to cite people in text/plain, without any markup. What does
> <cite> _add_ that solves a real problem?

>> <cite> -- particularly when restyled to not be visually apparent -- may
>> be one of the few aspects of HTML which is more important to other
>> classes of products.

> Like what? Are there examples I could look at? That would be very helpful
> in terms of finding purposes for <cite> other than just italics.

I was thinking of business-rule-validators that ensure claims are
"justified", or academic-influence measures that track citation

That said, I suspect any tool that can assume cooperative authors will
be custom, and could therefore be written to look for <span
class="citetool-pay-attention">.  So this use case may be about cruft
rather than needs.

>> > Is there as much semantic value in pointing to the primary source of a
>> > statement as there is in knowing that the word "earth" refers to the
>> > planet and not the dirt, for example? If so, what is that extra value?

When quotes are attributed to Winston Churchill (or Oscar Wilde), that
attribution is important -- generally more important than which
specific speech it came from.

>> >> dialogues and transcripts and credits and theatrical scripts are all
>> >> arguably too fine-grained for a "citation", as opposed to a "label"
>> >> or "attribution", but they are certainly real use cases where the
>> >> attribution is important.

>> > Why? This is not a rhetorical question, I'm trying to get to the use
>> > case that means that there is an actual benefit to what you are asking
>> > for.

>> They are all cases where "who said it" or "who did it" is important --
>> sometimes far more important than what they actually said or did.

> Sure, but <cite> doesn't help determine that. English helps determine
> that. (Or whatever natural language is used.) What is <cite> doing?

    Evil Lawyer:  So, when did you stop beating your wife?
    Defendant:  Never!

"Evil Lawyer" and "Defendant" aren't pronounced.  Their meanings (and
silence) are deduced from English conventions about punctuation.  I
would prefer a semantic tag.  (I'll freely agree that <cite> isn't the
perfect name, but it seems bizarre to forbid this related meaning,
while allowing generic Title Of Work.)

> <li> and <q> are both useful because of their default styling, as is
> <cite>, when used for something that works with its default styling. But
> that doesn't apply to people's names -- they are almost never made
> italics.

I actually have read scripts that used italics to indicate the
speaker's name.  I didn't find them the most readable of scripts, but
I have seen them.

>> >> I'll agree that it seems odd to have that many <cite> elements in
>> >> such close proximity, but it is the closest match I can find in the
>> >> spec, and it doesn't seem to be actually wrong. ?Searching for lines
>> >> by a particular character is a fairly common use case.

>> > Doesn't "find in page" handle that fine?

>> Not in my opinion.

> What are you expecting Web browsers to do that would make <cite> a better
> solution? Has a browser vendor expressed an interest in some UI feature
> for searching by citation name or some such?

Initially, nothing except Javascript or CSS hacks.

I'm expecting those to do something like increase the font size or
change the background for lines *I* have to memorize for *my*
character, or for cue lines that I have to recognize.

>> Because we don't have an <attrib> or even a <credit> element, and so
>> <cite> is the closest match.

> You're still not saying why you want this element. What would <attrib> be
> good for? What UI would it trigger? How would users or authors benefit?

I wouldn't expect the main use to be in normal browsing.

I would expect it to be used in License checkers that some
organizations would deploy to ensure they aren't violating copyright.
I would expect it to be used by some scrapers looking for stock
photos.  I would expect it to be used with custom CSS for some users,
who are really looking for a model or photographer rather than an
existing photograph.

>> Defining it as a synonym for <i class="title"> seems wrong in both
>> directions -- both promoting something that shouldn't be an element,
>> *and* preventing sensible use of an appropriately named element.

> Why would it be wrong to have an element to style titles?

Turning around your favorite question, what is the semantic value?

I can recommend Orson Scott Card's novel Enchantment.
I can recommend Orson Scott Card's novel "Enchantment".
I can recommend Orson Scott Card's novel <i class=title>Enchantment</i>.
I can recommend Orson Scott Card's novel <cite>Enchantment</cite>.

Is the extra value of the 4th spelling really that great?

And if the semantics are being changed anyhow, why not just move the
entire element from the "valid markup" section to the "user agents
must process" section?


More information about the whatwg mailing list