As has been said elsewhere (eg, by @liamquin) the term “author” would be ambiguous, and incorporating each and every possible variation into HTML as separate elements would be confusing. However… the original specification of the
role attribute (see https://www.w3.org/TR/role-attribute/) was meant, afaik, exactly for these cases: give an easy and simple ways to add simple semantics to an element. Ie, something like:
<p><span role='author'>Sergei Smirnov</span>...</p>
would be fine, and the possible values of
role could be defined and registered separately from the core HTML spec. Which means that its deployment would be easy, much easier than the introduction of a new element.
The problem is that, as of today, the values of
role are defined exclusively for the purpose of ARIA (https://www.w3.org/TR/wai-aria-1.1/), ie, for accessibility purposes, which may make it a bit difficult to add new values. Maybe we should look at the role (sic!) of the
role attribute HTML5 again and possibly extend its usage for the purpose of such ‘light’ semantics, too, beyond its usage in ARIA.
(I realize that there is a problem with the
cite element. But just adding yet another confusing element does not make it right imho…)