Beyond linking: the challenge and opportunity of citation

Louis Menand's The End Matter, in this week's New Yorker, is one of the funniest articles I've read in years. The lead is priceless:

It is 2:30 a.m. of a Monday, spring semester, 1983. Things are looking extremely good. Forty-eight hours of high-intensity stack work and some inspired typing have produced the thirty-page final paper for Modern European History (Mr. Blague, MW 9-10) that you were supposed to be working on all semester but that an unfortunate dispute involving a car, which, as you have repeatedly pointed out, really wasn't in such good shape when you borrowed it, has prevented you from giving the time and attention you sincerely intended.

[The New Yorker: The Critics: Books: End Matter]
The Chicago Manual of Style and Microsoft Word receive equal attention in this ferocious satire. In this excerpt, they conspire to make citation of web content particularly vexing:
On the aggravating business of citing a Web page, Chicago recommends giving the entire URL, usually in addition to any print data (journal volume number, year, page range, and so on), plus a "descriptive locator" (where to find the quotation on the screen, since electronic editions sometimes do not paginate), plus the date accessed. This can make for a very long note. Here is one of the samples the "Manual" offers, as it would appear if you reproduced it in Word:
Hlatky, M. A., D. Boothroyd, E. Vittinghoff, P. Sharp, and M. A. Whooley. 2002. Quality-of-life and depressive symptoms in postmenopausal women after receiving hormone therapy: Results from the Heart and Estrogen/Progestin Replacement Study (HERS) trial. Journal of the American Medical Association 287, no. 5 (February 6), (accessed January 7, 2002).
Try to prevent Word from doing that blue thing to whatever it recognizes as a hyperlink. There is undoubtedly a way to reset this, but it is deep within the bowels of the machine, guarded by dozens of angry pop-ups.

It's a wonderful piece worth reading in full. And of course there's a serious point behind all the satire. The web came from scholars and is all about sharing knowledge. Citation is the conversational medium in which we do that. Links are powerful tools that we're still learning to use, but citation is about more than just linking. I'm becoming deeply interested in how we can publish fragments that are easy to cite and that, when cited, carry rich context with them. Phil Windley's quote bookmarklet is an example of what can be done. If you are running Mozilla and want to see a markup-preserving variation on that theme, select some text on this page and then click here. For best effect, sweep out a selection that crosses an element boundary, for example everything from "Windley's" through to "an example" in the sentence before the previous one. You should get this complete paragraph, a la Mozilla's right-click View Selection Source feature, plus some metadata.

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