More on Bible Reference Microformats

OpenBible.info picked up on my post about a microformat for Scripture references, and very helpfully spelled out a number of important details, along with some clearer thinking on a few points.

  • Use the cite element (rather than abbr as i suggested). There’s more information here at microformats.org about citation formats. I agree this is a better match with the intended semantics of the element (what was i thinking?).
  • Treat the title attribute optional (as it is for XHTML in general): once you’ve established (via the class attribute) that something’s a Bible reference, you only need a title if the associated reference isn’t clear.
  • For links, use the a element with class="bibleref".
  • Forget about biblerange for indicating spans of text: once identified as a Bible reference, any reasonable representation of a range can probably be parsed. (I didn’t feel very strongly about this one to start with). I also think the suggestion for treating compound references makes sense: essentially, provide a title to disambiguate sub-elements that aren’t clear.
  • The suggestion for putting an optional translation identifier first in the title attribute seems reasonable to me too.

I’m still a bit uneasy about internationalization issues, though. title = "John 3:16" adheres to existing standards in the English speaking world, but French would have Jean 3:16, Spanish Juan 3:16, etc. Though any of these are relatively unambiguous as identifiers within their own language context, there’s always a political side. In principle, a properly-formatted web  page would indicate the language of the content, which a parser could then use to parse references in a language-specific fashion.
Frankly, i’m still a little unclear about whether (in microformat terms) this is “semantic XHTML” or a microformat (though i think it’s the former). But this proposal seems clear enough to me to move forward with broader adoption: bibliobloggers, are you in? Some possible next steps:

  • convince others to adopt this, and try to gather momentum
  • design and promote a badge to indicate your blog uses the bibleref standard?
  • lobby authors of Bible reference plugins for blogging platforms to adopt this
  • a conversion service to take RSS feeds (in the several popular formats) that use bibleref markup and enhance them with links to an online Bible (similar to a RSS to GeoRSS converter): this would help demonstrate the utility of the additional markup effort
  • once the standard is more widely adopted, see if Technorati and other aggregators would agree to pick it up in their meta-data crawling

As an aside for those who use Technorati-style tags in their posts (i do, though i haven’t properly exposed them in my WordPress template yet): i’m going to use “bibleref” as a tag for additional posts in this area, and i encourage you to do the same.

7 thoughts on “More on Bible Reference Microformats”

  1. Sean, (I am assuming it was this Sean who posted the comment on my blog, if not you may want to look at that 😉

    The mention of search engines made me think, have you “spoken” to people like Ehud Ben Zvi at JHS, at some stage getting such people on board would be helpful…

  2. (yes, i’m “that” Sean :-))
    I’m definitely thinking about how to garner wider participation: i think that has the potential to make a significant contribution to the “findability” of Scripture references on the web. At this point, i’m working up a page that i can point other people to, and then i’ll start promoting.

  3. I read the previous microformat post without noticing this one, so version 3.0 of the WordPress ESV plugin used the abbr tag. I’ll be releasing 3.1 soon and it will make use of the cite tag, and the class name on links.

    As far as my plugin goes, there is one problem with the title tag that I am still mulling over. The plugin has the option of displaying the Bible text in a tooltip. If I use the title attribute in a link, many browsers will display that as a small tooltip and it will be displayed on top of the Bible passage tooltip. There is no guarantee that the link text will be the Bible reference, so leaving out the title isn’t really helpful.

    What I will likely do is to have the cite tag prior to the link and have it contain a style attribute with display:none; so that the bibleref will be present with the actual Bible reference without interfering any with the plugin.

    I will do something similar for instances when a user uses the plugin to display Bible text inline but doesn’t want to display the reference: I’ll have a cite tag, but with display: hidden.

    How does that sound?

  4. Chris: putting bibleref in your WordPress ESV plugin is great, and will make it easy (even transparent) for folks. Thanks!
    If i understood you correctly, you’re proposing to add style=”display:none” to prevent bad interactions with the tooltip. I don’t see any problem with that, since it doesn’t interfere with the semantics.

  5. Okay I’ve released version 3.1 of my ESV Plugin and have included the microformat method described in this post. ESV Plugin 3.1 is at: http://www.musterion.net/2007/06/08/announcing-wordpress-esv-plugin-310/

    Sean, if you think there would be interest, I could write a pretty simple plugin for WordPress that would only do the microformat, and only when a visitor visits the page. This would be for users who might be interested in an automatic microformat but don’t want everything contained in the ESV plugin. If the microformat method ever changes a user would only have to upgrade their plugin and, since the plugin would execute at runtime and wouldn’t change the post itself, all references would use the updated microformat.

    Just let me know, a plugin like that would be pretty simple to write.

  6. Hi guys,

    Just want to let you know that I read this post and the related ones about 1.5 years ago and they helped me to basically consolidate what I was thinking anyway with using the cite tag. When building the Christian Assemblies website I had another class in mind but we opted to go for the “bibleref” class in the name of standardisation. Check the site out for a fairly intensive example of use of the microformat! We have 10 languages and it’s working pretty well for us so I don’t think the internationalisation issues are a problem.

    There’s only one thing where we’ve broken the standard – we fill the title attribute with the full verse text. This is needed so that we can produce the cool pop-ups with the full text when you hover your mouse over a scripture reference. But if you check the code you’ll see that we at least start with the reference.

    Additionally we use the full book names since the site is aimed largely at non-Christians and we want them to understand what we are talking about! We also use [q class="bibletxt"] to mark up our actual scripture text. Perhaps this will become the next standard?? 🙂

    I think it’s a good microformat.

    Regards,
    John

  7. John:

    I’m glad you’ve found bibleref helpful. While i can’t claim it’s achieved the status of a “standard”, i feel like every step toward more regularity is a good one.

    As to using title to show the full text: example 3A on the Bibleref Examples page shows another alternative. Given an outer cite tag and an inner anchor tag, most browsers will take the title from the inner one: so that would give you both standard bibleref as well as text in the tooltip. For pop-ups, you might look at Logos’ Reftagger, which gives you lots of tooltip options (and also respects bibleref markup).

    I certainly don’t see anything wrong with using full book names: any parsing scheme that recognizes the usual abbreviations should be able to recognize them as well.

    Thanks for sharing your site!
    Sean

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