My first reaction to reading Blockquote: Then and Now was a sigh as I spotted people changing the meaning of attributes in HTML. Before I ranted about it, I checked the HTML 4.01 specification for cite, this would make sure I got my facts right, and give me material to quote.
The value of this attribute is a URI that designates a source document or message. This attribute is intended to give information about the source from which the quotation was borrowed.
Well, that wasn't exactly what I was expecting. Source document or message? What does that mean?
Source document is easy enough to interpret, it is the document from which the quotation is taken.
What does message mean though? Is it supposed to be "Source message"? That would be fairly redundant. It we couple it with the rest of the material I quoted above, it suggests it could be a simple piece of text which gives the reader enough information to identify the source.
This means that the microformat described in the article may be rather a good one.
Sadly, the examples for that section don't confirm this.
So, what started out as an exercise in ranting about a technique turned into a guarded approval of it, and another little frustration with HTML 4.
I like HTML 4, it is a good language and the specification is generally good. There are, however, some bits which could do with some polish. The cite attribute is one, definition lists are another.
Another application of DL, for example, is for marking up dialogues, with each DT naming a speaker, and each DD containing his or her words.
But dialogues aren't terms and definitions. Why use a definition list for this? And does that mean they can be used for any purpose where you want to associate one or more bits of information with a heading? I'm not alone in my dislike of this.
What we need, in my opinion, is HTML 4.02. HTML5 is coming, but won't be ready for a good few years. In the meantime, the web might be a better place with a slightly polished HTML 4 which doesn't try to add new features, but just expresses the existing ones better.
Photo credit: Fountain pen by Bright Meadow used under a Creative Commons license