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Re: Footnote discussions

From: Matt Garrish <matt.garrish@bell.net>
Date: Fri, 6 Feb 2015 13:02:23 -0500
Message-ID: <BLU437-SMTP41408C46F2427CA31AEB16FA380@phx.gbl>
To: "Bill Kasdorf" <bkasdorf@apexcovantage.com>, "Liam R E Quin" <liam@w3.org>
CC: "Siegman, Tzviya - Hoboken" <tsiegman@wiley.com>, "Shane McCarron" <shane@aptest.com>, "Dave Cramer" <dauwhe@gmail.com>, "David MacDonald" <david100@sympatico.ca>, "Robert Sanderson" <azaroth42@gmail.com>, "George Kerscher" <kerscher@montana.com>, <public-digipub-ig@w3.org>
The distinctions you mention below between editorial and authorial notes 
ties into the OA metadata I mentioned. Same with translators and any other 
commentators in an annotated work. Who authored the notes is important to 
know, and a needed semantic to do notes "right".

I don't know that a corollary can be drawn between the author and the note 
position for all books, though (leaving out marginalia). Position 
facilitates reading, but that also varies on preference and type of work. In 
a general non-fiction work, I probably don't want to see footnotes as I'm 
reading. But in a scientific paper, I likely wouldn't want to flip back and 
forth to find out additional context to what I'm reading.

If position itself is important, what I think we're missing is a question of 
importance. Other than a note being easier/faster to reference at the bottom 
of a page -- which is true, but can be a toggleable feature in digital --  
what makes the note so important that it has to be positioned at the foot of 
the page instead of the end of the section/work? I believe such semantics 
are likely to be unearthed (criticality of understanding v. ancillary 
information), but we need to dig deeper into why we use notes the way we do.

It seems like we intuitively know what we intend in publishing when we make 
these positional determinations, but to move away from the two dimensions of 
print we need to better surface the why's and have the markup carry that 

In this dream world of mine, a formatting tool could use the semantics to 
correctly reposition the notes for print, too, without reliance on classes.


-----Original Message----- 
From: Bill Kasdorf
Sent: Friday, February 06, 2015 12:24 PM
To: Liam R E Quin ; Matt Garrish
Cc: Siegman, Tzviya - Hoboken ; Shane McCarron ; Dave Cramer ; David 
MacDonald ; Robert Sanderson ; George Kerscher ; public-digipub-ig@w3.org
Subject: RE: Footnote discussions

An e-mail I just got from a client I'm working with (one of the world's 
largest scholarly publishers, this is not an outlier) contained something 
pertinent to this discussion:

"On a given textual edition, there might be a combination of any of the 
--authorial footnotes;
--authorial endnotes;
--authorial marginal notes;
--editorial footnotes;
--editorial endnotes;
--editorial marginal notes (these are rare, but do occur – e.g., Richardson, 
Early Works, p. 71)."

Clearly those are semantic distinctions. They are positioned differently for 
a reason. The reason is what matters, not the position.

However, I think the fundamental question wrt markup is whether these are 
_structural_ semantic distinctions or _content_ semantic distinctions.

It's quite arguable that they're the latter. To the publisher, as long as 
they have a way of making that distinction in their markup, they're probably 

So what this might lead one to conclude would be @role="note" and 

--Bill K

-----Original Message-----
From: Liam R E Quin [mailto:liam@w3.org]
Sent: Monday, February 02, 2015 7:41 PM
To: Matt Garrish
Cc: Siegman, Tzviya - Hoboken; Shane McCarron; Dave Cramer; David MacDonald; 
Robert Sanderson; Bill Kasdorf; George Kerscher; public-digipub-ig@w3.org
Subject: Re: Footnote discussions

On Mon, 2 Feb 2015 16:03:02 -0500 Matt Garrish <matt.garrish@bell.net> 

> It’s not to suggest that the distinctions aren’t real in publishing
> and don’t have meaning, but aren’t they all just variations in kind
> when we take print workflows out of the equation? [...]. Accept that
> they’re all annotations -- and that styling/layout can be so fluid in
> digital that they could be pop-ups, margin notes, bottom of page notes
> or end notes all depending on the capabilities of the user agent and
> the desire of the reader

To pull some threads together...

The nature of a footnote is that it does not require any actuation -- in 
print you can see it by looking at the bottom of the page, and in an 
e-reader one can easily imagine a dedicated footnote area anywhere on the 

The nature of marginalia is that it can be seen without any actuation, and 
also that one can use marginalia as a way t find related content.

The nature of an end note is that it does require actuation (even if in 
print it's just keeping two bookmarks and turning a bunch of pages, or 
scanning down to the end of a section).

So there is a difference in authorial intent.

That many Web designers are not familiar with the demands of producing and 
processing complex texts doesn't mean the distinctions are not important --  
these texts are a huge challenge to put on the Web today.

I think it's useful to look at a second level of footnotes as an annotation. 
For example, a critical edition of a text wthat had footnotes with dagger, 
star, obelisk for numbering ill often add another level off footnotes with 
1, 2, 3, or even Greek callouts, as here [Member-only link, sorry; I'll try 
and make them public in the next few days but I have also attached it to 
this message] 

Here, note (1) is from the first edition, and note (*) is a clarification in 
this second edition (a footnote to a footnote in fact). The margin note 
helps people to find a passage of signifcance (in the opinion of the editor) 
and the 2 at upper right is a page/folio number from the original 

This is not a complex example of notes in the humanities.

Speaking from a markup point of view, and from searching and editing, one 
might reasonably want different markup for these different cases, perhaps 
yes using the work of the annotations WG - assuming they accept complex/rich 
text annotations that contain markup and might themselves contain footnotes.

And from an accessibility perspective, a footnote as a link isn't bad if you 
can reliably go back to exactly the right place; I' might also want to be 
able to have a sort of table of contents of a section containing only the 
marginalia, so as to be able to go straight to a passage of interest, and 
the markup would need to support this. Endnotes are in a sense already 

The current CSS draft in GCPM does not I think handle multiple levels of 
footnotes (as on this sample page). I have many more recent examples but 
used this one because it's out of copyright. In one of the other samples in 
the same set there are multilingual examples, with Greek and Hebrew. An 
interlinear gloss is another example where I think the term "annotations" 
may be OK or may seem to trivialize the importance of the gloss - the gloss 
is actually often the main text of the document. So in markup one might want 
to make the gloss - the translation written between the lines of the 
original - be the main text and the "original" be an annotation, 
that-which-is-translated. Another example would be Japanese Ruby. However, 
in processing the text one typically needs to be able to ignore the ruby 

It might be that from an HTML perspective note class="footnote" -- Matt, 
they are called footnotes, it's not about the placement, deal with it eh? 
:-) :-) -- would work, perhaps with ARIA roles to indicate rendering and 
actuation intent.

> then what becomes more interesting is the semantics of the information 
> carried in the annotation, who has provided it (author, translator), etc. 
> to facilitate intelligent rendering.

I think this probably goes back to HTML class and ARIA.

> The multi-reference problem would have to be overcome, although maybe it 
> wouldn’t be so much of an issue if you aren’t “going somewhere” so much as 
> “something opens” (i.e., that can be closed to the current spot). Or, if 
> you have the choice, you could pick the rendering option that best works 
> for you.

In complex texts it's not uncommon to have a single note referred to 
multiple times in a chapter - it should only appear once on each applicable 
page in print of course, but can make the UI harder for "going back".

> [...] Forcing people to read notes where they occur removes the ability to 
> explore the notes after reading the text (something I’m fond of doing, as 
> I hate losing the narrative thread). But perhaps this is a UA problem to 
> solve if we leave rendering to the UA.

I think it probably is. However, Web browsers haven't been very innovative 
in hypertext so far, and ideas like content narrowing (show only...) have to 
be done in JavaScript today -- and seem not as common as one might have 
thought when the Web started.

> But that leads to the question do we really want another linking method? 
> Maybe I’m not as informed on the @rel/@role attributes, but couldn’t one 
> of them carry the semantic that the <a> references a note? I get the urge 
> for a dedicated reference, but most of the appeal of HTML (to me) is its 
> minimalism, and EPUB’s stuck with <a> without problem. It would be nice 
> not to have explicit references at all, but as Dave Cramer noted, inlining 
> leads to messy content models plus duplication for multi-references (and 
> on to maintenance headaches...).

The problem isn't simple. So it's a case of whether the markup helps, or 
whether we have to solve the problems by overloading the markup.

Liam (just in from clearing snow here in Eastern Ontario)

Liam Quin - XML Activity Lead, W3C, http://www.w3.org/People/Quin/ Pictures 
from old books: http://fromoldbooks.org/ 
Received on Friday, 6 February 2015 18:02:50 UTC

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