This isn’t exactly news, so if you’ve already read all you want about the footnotes John Gruber uses at Daring Fireball, skip this. In case you missed these posts from a couple of months ago, John Gruber talks about his use of footnotes in About the Footnotes, Joe Clark responds in There’s no such thing as a footnote, and Richard Rutter does a bit of analysis in Gruber’s footnotes.

Posted on September 21, 2005 in (X)HTML, Quicklinks


  1. I agree:

    There’s no such thing as a footnote! Web not a paper.

  2. September 22, 2005 by DustPuppy

    Did John Gruber really write an article about how to link from article to footnote and back to article again?

    While it’s healthy that there are many articles around covering usability and semantics there is such a thing as overkill. Did he do any more than state the obvious?

    I’ll let you know when my next article, “Grandma, This is How You Suck Eggs” is published.

  3. There is an existing term for citation marks like what Peter Gruber has implemented on his site. It’s the footnote less-loved cousin, the endnote. That is all he implemented.

  4. Oh goodie, another inline text stunt clients will see and will want in their CMS driven web site.

    I do this with inline links - listing them at the end of the article as URLs for the print version.

  5. Well, there is a point to saying

    There’s no such thing as a footnote! Web not a paper.

    BUT if you read Improving Printing you’ll see that there is a “valid” use for the technique.

  6. Endnotes/footnotes/whatever you want to call them are a very real part of everyday life for those of us who publish health and/or scientific information on the web.

    The whole “Unicode symbol taking you back to the ref marker” thing seems a cute trick. Not world-shattering or ground-breakingly innovative, but cute. And certainly not worth getting into a flap over.

  7. add a subtle page scroll animation to the anchor links and the spatial memory that john gruber was talking about becomes less abstract on the screen.

  8. DustPuppy,

    If you feel you have been so inundated with footnote articles, don’t read them or articles that talk about them. Sheesh.

    (Someone please stop the leak on the web…the overload of footnote articles are causing the web to burst at the seams!)

    Looking forward to your grandma article. I bet she’s real proud of you.

  9. BUT if you read Improving Printing you’ll see that there is a “valid” use for the technique.

    Did I say footnotes bad for print? I meant footnotes bad for screen.

  10. September 22, 2005 by DustPuppy

    Jeff Hartman,

    I don’t feel inundated with footnote articles but I do feel that there’s a whole lot of people over analysing some things.

    In my opinion there is good reason for there not to be a lot of footnote articles; we don’t need any. If John was to tell us something new about how to implement them or something else of value then I wouldn’t have criticised. As it is, all he’s done is tell us how to make an upside down FAQ page circa 1995.

    It’s nothing more than an obvious use of anchors which anybody needing to add footnotes would implement without a second thought and certainly with no fanfare.

  11. Here’s my idea (not super original):

    Why not put footnotes as a JavaScript tool-tip hover? Most of the time, I find these types of tool-tips really annoying, but it would be a good alternative to a foot-note.

    It would save the user from scrolling the entire length of the page to find their place again, keep designers from having to have tons of inter-page jumps via anchors, and in general make everyone happy.

    Anyways, those are my two cents. :)

  12. For what it’s worth, I think they are Endnotes, Not Footnotes. They are placed at the end of the document, not that bottom of the “page” since the web doesn’t have “pages” in the sense implied by “footnotes”.

  13. As placed on the screen, yes, they are endnotes. But the question we who want to use them are asking is: how do we enable the reader to quickly find the information they contain without losing his/her place in the main text?

    I like Gruber’s suggestion, which is more clear than what I did while reinventing the wheel for my own articles, which was to connect the numeral callout in the text to the one in the note and vice versa, so that one would click on the footnote’s callout to return to its text counterpart. It works well, but there’s nothing to tell the reader how to use it. Perhaps a “[back]” notation is all that’s needed, but I’m open to more elegant ideas. After all, when used judiciously, a sequined cocktail dress and rouge add significantly to the beholder’s experience.

    But we do need some method for inserting information, bibliographic or whatever, that is significant but would jam the flow of regular text.

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