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All content by Kyle E. Mitchell, who is not your lawyer.

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Thoughts on Web Footnoteslinks, notes, asides, details, and parentheticals

I avoid footnotes on this blog because I don’t like them as a reader. I know different folks, at different times, bring different levels of interest to a piece and to tidbits they find in it. But a writer takes the choice of what to stay as much as how to say it. I avoid parentheticals for the same reason. The effect either way is as if to say, “I am telling you this doesn’t matter so much, but I’m also bothering you with it anyway.”

Footnotes are bad enough in law review articles, where the convention is notes at bottom of page. They’re worse in books, with flipping to the back, or worse still, finding the end of the chapter. On the web, there’s a bit less hassle with links down and back, but the and herk and jerk of the interruption remains.

Consistency’s obviously been no impediment here, because I hyperlink bits of post text all the time. Those links have precisely the same effect as a footnote—invitation, without explanation, to somewhere, presumably with related information. I suspect my game here is that links are “what the Web wants” and don’t involve bodging a print practice into hypertext. The facade of correctness spares me awkwardly facing my own hypocrisy.

There is nothing stopping me from linking bits of text to notes at the end of a post, without giving away that they’re footnotes. I could even give those headings, so folks who reach the end without clicking can skim and dive in if they like. Point is, if you want to know more and I’m able to offer it, there you go. You never know quite what you’ll get, clicking a link. If it’s more page from me, it’s no crisis.

All this comes to mind because a number of Russian blogs I’ve been reading, like Агентство for instance, moved onto a platform with expandable inline notes. That got me looking into whether the HTML5 <details> element can be used inline with browsers’ native open-close UI, which I surmised it shouldn’t. There may be some benefit to giving people their extra text inline when they click for it, like an opt-in parenthetical. But personally, I’m not terribly used to that yet, and tend to think most folks would find a backlink perfectly tractable. Or even just prefer pressing Back.

Anyone worried my posts might be about to get longer can rest easy.

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