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Cite element

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Research, data, use cases, issues, and enhancements related to the HTML5 cite element.


Update 2014-11-14: The HTML spec has been changed to allow use of <cite> to refer to a speaker, and even includes an example of it: http://www.w3.org/html/wg/drafts/html/master/text-level-semantics.html#the-cite-element

The cite element has been used (and recommended to be used) to refer to speakers in a conversation, or individuals when quoting them, thus HTML5 should explicitly permit and encourage this use.

This section serves to document both uses in the wild, and long-standing recommendations/documentations thereof.

Examples in the Wild



original intent of cite element

  • 2007-06-07 Dan Connolly, Editor of HTML 2.0, said in IRC that

    <cite> was supposed to capture the chicago-manual-of-style idiom for titles of works. I have lost track of what it means these days.

    • This may have been the original intent (original theoretical purity), however, based on the example in the HTML4 spec(s) and adoption by the web community over the past 10+ years (see above examples in the wild), it makes more sense to define the <cite> element per actual usage (preferring authors), rather than original intent (theoretical purity), per the priority of constituencies HTML design principle. - Tantek 22:18, 13 August 2010 (UTC)
  • "DanC said allowing <cite> for speakers was a bug in HTML 4 that happened because he was asleep at the wheel."
    • Regardless of what DanC as a specifier may have intended, the authors have widely adopted the usage of cite for speakers, and thus since authors are considered over specifiers (per above-referenced design principle), we should prefer author usage over original specifier intent.

speakers are not italicized typically

  • "Since speakers aren't italicized typically, using <cite> for them doesn't really make sense. "
    • This sounds like either an argument from presentation, which seems backwards, as semantics should be determined first, and then authors can style semantics however they wish, or it's an argument from default presentation implementation, in which case once again per priority of constituencies HTML design principle, since authors are considered over implementers, we should respect author usage of cite for speakers over any particular implementer opinion of what cite should do or look like.
      • The Design Principles don't support the notion of determining semantics first. In fact, the Design Principles were carefully drafted not to treat semantics as having any value on their own right but only as a means to a useful end (such as Device Independence or Accessibility). As for considering authors over implementors or specifiers, we should consider whether an author who hasn't been exposed to advocacy that tries to rationalize the feature set of HTML4 would find a need to mark up speakers in a way that italicizes by default and required additional work to un-italicize as opposed to not marking up speakers at all all using the b element to bold speakers where required by a newspaper-like house style. That is, what authors do after having been exposed to advocacy is bad evidence for determining the needs the authors would have on their own initiative.


Opinions on whether HTML5 should explicitly permit and encourage use of the cite element to refer to speakers in a conversation, or individuals when quoting them:

articles on speaker cite

Articles supporting the use of the cite element for marking up speakers:

speaker cite FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about using the cite element for marking up speakers.

how do you connect the speaker cite to what was said

Question: How could we connect the speaker, CITE to what was said, Q, without nesting? Perhaps using FOR, as in form labels:

<cite for="good">Andy Mabbett</cite> said <q id="good">This is good</q>.

On the other hand, if we reverse that we could have a many-to-one relationship:

<cite id="andy">Andy Mabbett</cite> said <q for="andy">This is good</q> and later said <q for="andy">This is better</q>.</nowiki>

Answer: The existing 'cite' attribute on the <q> and <blockquote> elements can be used for this, in HTML4 and later:

<cite id="andy">Andy Mabbett</cite> said 
<q cite="#andy">This is good</q>
 and later said 
<q cite="#andy">This is better</q>.

speaker cite related