[whatwg] The blockquote element spec vs common quoting practices

Jeremy Keith jeremy at adactio.com
Fri Jul 8 04:20:13 PDT 2011

Oli wrote:
> I’ve outlined the problem and some potential solutions (with their
> pros and cons) in:
>  http://oli.jp/2011/blockquote/

Excellent work, IMHO. I've added my own little +1 here: http://adactio.com/journal/4675/

Oli continues:
> I think the blockquote spec should be changed to allow the inclusion
> of notes and attribution (quote metadata), perhaps by the addition of
> a sentence like:
>  “Block quotes may also contain annotations or attribution, inline or
> in an optional footer element”
> This would change blockquote from being purely source content, to
> being source content with possible metadata inline or in a footer.
> However I don’t think that’s a problem, as these things increase the
> value of the quoted content. I think a spec change is necessary to
> accommodate common quoting practices.

This sounds good to me.

1) Oli has shown the real-world use cases for attribution *within* blockquotes. I know that the "Pave the cowpaths" principle gets trotted out a lot, but Oli's research here is a great example of highlighting existing cowpaths (albeit in printed rather than online material):


"When a practice is already widespread among authors, consider adopting it rather than forbidding it or inventing something new."

2) This is something that authors want, both on the semantic and styling level (i.e. a way to avoid having to wrap every blockquote in a div just to associate attribution information with said blockquote). I believe that the problem statement that Oli has outlined fits with the HTML design principle "Solve real problems."


"Abstract architectures that don't address an existing need are less favored than pragmatic solutions to problems that web content faces today."

3) The solution that Oli has proposed (allowing footer within blockquote to include non-quoted information) is an elegant one, in my opinion. I can think of some solutions that would involve putting the attribution data outside the blockquote and then explicitly associating it using something like the @for attribute and an ID, but that feels messier and less intuitive to me. Simply allowing a footer within a blockquote to contain non-quoted material satisfies the design principle "Avoid needless complexity."


"Simple solutions are preferred to complex ones, when possible. Simpler features are easier for user agents to implement, more likely to be interoperable, and easier for authors to understand."

4) Because the footer element is new to HTML5, I don't foresee any backward-compatibility issues. The web isn't filled with blockquotes containing footers that are part of the quoted material. Oli's solution would match up nicely with the design principle "Support existing content."


"The benefit of the proposed change should be weighed against the likely cost of breaking content"


Jeremy Keith

a d a c t i o


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