Gruber’s footnotes

§ Information design

I just noticed the way John Gruber handles footnotes on Daring Fireball. In particular the little arrow1 appended to the footnote which sends readers back to their place in the text. Altogether very neat. You’ll be needing this: ↩ entity for the arrow.

  1. Something like this.

Update. Well that’s timely (a coincidence?) – Gruber explains the footnotes himself.

Update. A response to Joe Clark’s post. I feel a little self-defence is in order (even though his post may not have been directed solely at me). To address Joe’s last point first:

This is an example of heaping praise upon an A-lister for doing something everyday and common under the guise of innovation.

Less said the better, but I do feel I should point out a little chronology. I published this single-paragraph post nearly a week before Gruber posted his own missive on footnotes. Had I known he would write such a post I wouldn’t have bothered.

Gruber?s footnotes aren?t footnotes at all, but merely a “Back to Top of Page” link in sequined cocktail dress and rouge. Hence they should not be given any more attention than such links have been. There’s no innovation whatsoever here

The whole point is that they are not merely “Back to Top of Page” links; they are “Back to Where You Were Reading” links. A subtle but important difference. Not particularly innovative, but something I hadn’t seen before so I deemed it a treatment worth noting.

even his choice of Unicode arrow character is wrong (we are not hooking and moving leftwards; we’re going straight up ↑).

Does the chosen symbol really contain that much typographical, literary or scientific meaning? I don’t know. I thought the arrow appropriate because it implied a slightly different behaviour to the straight up arrow more commonly used for “back to top” links, which this isn’t. A browser’s back button points to the left, and does this linked arrow not take you back? Perhaps an upwards dashed arrow ⇡ would be as appropriate? Anyway the arrow itself wasn’t a point of great fascination, especially as these Unicode characters fail to render properly in most cases.

In HTML or XHTML, there’s no such thing as a footnote. No structure for it exists at all.

Well that’s true, but does it mean ‘footnotes’ are just ‘notes’ in HTML documents or should we simply not be writing web pages in a manner that requires such explanatory annotations? Perhaps these notes should be held together on a separate page in a more conventional hypertext construct?