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March 12, 2015

Corrections metadata

It’s certain that this has already been suggested many times, and it’s highly likely it’s been implemented at least several times. But here goes:

Currently the convention for correcting an online mistake is to strikethrough the errant text and then put in the correct text. Showing one’s errors is a wonderful norm, for it honors the links others have made to the piece; it’s at best confusing when you post criticism of someone else’s work, but when the reader goes there the errant remarks have been totally excised. It’s also a visible display of humility.

But strikethrough text is a visual cue of a structural meaning. And it conveys only the fact that the text is wrong, not why it’s wrong.

So, why isn’t there markup for corrections? is the set of simple markup for adding semantics to plain old Web pages. The reader can’t see the markup, but computers can. The major search engines are behind, which means that if you mark up your page with the metadata they’ve specified, the search engines will understand your page better and are likely to up its ranking. (Here’s another post of mine about

So, imagine there were simple markup you could put into your HTML that would let you note that some bit of text is errant, and let you express (in hidden text):

  • When the correction was made

  • Who made it

  • Who suggested the correction, if anyone.

  • When it was made

  • What was wrong with the text

  • A bit of further explanation

The corrected text might include the same sort of information. Plus, you’d want a way to indicate that these two pieces of text refer to one another; you wouldn’t want a computer getting confused about which correction corrects which errant text.

If this became standard, browsers could choose to display errant texts and their corrections however they’d like. Add-ons could be written to let users interact with corrections in different ways. For example, maybe you like seeing strikethroughs but I’d prefer to be able to hover to see the errant text. Maybe we can sign up to be notified of any corrections to an article, but not corrections that are just grammatical. Maybe we want to be able to do research about the frequency and type of corrections across sources, areas, languages, genders…. could drive this through. Unless, of course, it already has.


Be sure to read the comment from Dan Brickley. Dan is deeply involved in (The prior comment is from my former college roommate.)