Planning the future of the Digital Publishing Interest Group

Time flies… it has almost been two years since the Digital Publishing Interest Group started its work. Lot has happened in those two years; the group

  • has published a report on the Annotation Use Cases (which contributed to the establishment of a separate Web Annotation Working Group);
  • has conducted a series of interviews (and published a report) with some of the main movers and shakers of metadata in the Publishing Industry;
  • is working with the WAI Protocols and Format Working Group to create a separate vocabulary describing document structures using the ARIA 1.1 technology (and thereby making an extra step towards a better accessibility of Digital Publishing);
  • maintains a document on Requirement for Latin Text Layout and Pagination, which is also used in discussion with other W3C groups on setting the priorities on specific technologies;
  • made an assessment of the various Web Accessibility Guidelines (especially the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) from the point of view of the Publishing Industry, and plans to document which guidelines are relevant (or not) for that community and which use cases are not yet adequately covered;
  • established a reference wiki page listing the important W3C specifications for the Publishing Industry (by the way, that list is not only public, but can also be edited by anybody with a valid W3C account);
  • has conducted a series of interviews with representatives of STEM Publishing and is currently busy analyzing the results;
  • commented on a number of W3C drafts and ongoing works (in CSS, Internationalization, etc.) to get the the voice of the Publishing Industry adequately heard.

However, the most important result of these two years is the fact that the Interest Group contributed in setting up, at last, a stable and long term contacts between the Web and the Publishing Industries. Collaboration now exist with IDPF (on, e.g., the development of EPUB 3.1 or in the EDUPUB Initiative), with BISG (on, e.g., accessibility issues), and contacts with other organizations (e.g., Readium, IDAlliance, or EDItEUR) have also been established.

The group has also contributed significantly to a vision on the future of Digital Publishing, formalized by experts in IDPF and W3C and currently called “EPUB+WEB”. The vision has been described in a White Paper; its short summary can be summarized as:

[…]portable documents become fully native citizens of the Open Web Platform. In this vision, the current format- and workflow-level separation between offline/portable (EPUB) and online (Web) document publishing is diminished to zero. These are merely two dynamic manifestations of the same publication: content authored with online use as the primary mode can easily be saved by the user for offline reading in portable document form. Content authored primarily for use as a portable document can be put online, without any need for refactoring the content. […] Essential features flow seamlessly between online and offline modes; examples include cross-references, user annotations, access to online databases, as well as licensing and rights management.

But, as I said, time flies: this also means that the Interest Group has to be re-chartered. This is always a time when the group can reflect on what has gone well and what should be changed. The group has therefore also contributed to its new, draft charter. Of course, according to this draft, most of the current activities (e.g., on document structures or accessibility) will continue. However, the work will also be greatly influenced by the vision expressed in the EPUB+WEB White Paper. This vision should serve as a framework for the group’s activities. In particular, the specific technical challenges in realizing this vision are to be identified, relevant use cases should be worked out. Although the Interest Group is not chartered to define W3C Recommendations, it also plans to draft technical solutions, proof-of-concept code, etc., testing the feasibility of a particular approach. If the result of the discussions is that a specific W3C Recommendation should be established on a particular subject, the Interest Group will contribute in formalizing the relevant charter and contribute to the process toward the creation of the group.

The charter is, at this point, a public draft, not yet submitted to the W3C Management or the Advisory Committee for approval. Any comment on the charter (and, actually, on the White Paper, too!) is very welcome: the goal is to submit a final charter for approval reflecting the largest possible constituency. Issues, comments, feedbacks can be submitted through the issues’ list of the charter repository (and, respectively, through the issues’ list of the White Paper repository) or, alternatively, sent to me by email.

Two years have passed; looking forward to another two years (or more)!

5 thoughts on “Planning the future of the Digital Publishing Interest Group

  1. I see 2 very large gaps in the program (not to discount the fine work that has been done, all essential for moving forward).

    1. Provenance. Those trained in classic techniques of scholarship still seek an assurance of authenticity for digital experiences that is comparable to what the elaborate machinery of scholarship provided.
    2. Logic. Not just the first fruits of the semantic web in the form of advanced finding aids, but integrating structured logical definitions, propositions, and arguments into EPUB+WEB to allow e-readers to do automatic fact- and fallacy-checking.

  2. Dear Paul,

    I fully agree that these two features are essential in, e.g., scholarly or educational publications. However, the question one has to ask in terms of EPUB+WEB is: is this a new requirement? Is it something that goes beyond what EPUB 3 can already do? I.e., is it something that would require additional work, e.g., at W3C? (We should not forget that EPUB+WEB builds on top of EPUB 3 as much as possible.)

    Our impression is that the answer to those questions is actually ‘no’. EPUB 3 is a general format that allows, essentially, full web sites to be encapsulated and packaged. That may include all kinds of metadata (like provenance) and any number of Javascripts (or other reasoning engines) as part of the publication. Of course, I am painfully aware that many EPUB reading systems do not handle these content properly yet, but one hopes that this will improve.

    That being said: maybe this is not spelled out so explicitly in the White Paper; I will have a look.

    Thanks again!

    P.S. Actually, I have put a reference to the comment on the White Paper’s Issues’ list

    1. But wouldn’t it defeat the interoperability goal if EPUB vendors were simply allowed to add argument-checkers and fact-checkers driven by non-standard markup?

      I mentioned the specific topics of Provenance and Logic to keep the comment focused on actionable issues. But my bigger point is that the overall goals of digital publishing fall short. They consider publications as ends in themselves, instead of as the means by which one intellect communicates with another. By this view, good epubs are simply cool and convenient presentations of text and images.

      In book and paper world, it was solely within the province of human intellect to parse arguments, track down citations, evaluate evidence, and detect fallacies in documents. Those functions can now be shared with computers. I see nothing in the digital publication initiative that addresses these issues from an end-to-end (i.e., intellect-to-intellect), interoperable perspective.

      I am only a casual observer, and I can see that the momentum and driving forces behind EPUB are entirely focused on the “cool and convenient” presentation of text and images (or aural equivalent). As I said before, I don’t mean to discount all the effort that has gone into that. It just doesn’t move us as far forward as we should be by this time in the computer age. And I don’t know who but W3C is in a position to advance beyond that.

  3. Paul,

    I understand, and yes, there is a more general issue on the future of (scholarly) publications. It is also true that, in that grand scheme of things, EPUB 3, or EPUB+WEB, or anything similar is only one component, maybe even just a small one. It is also true that the Digital Publishing Interest Group (present and planned), as well as the EPUB+WEB vision, looks at this aspect only; we have to do this for several reasons. The main reason is that many of the issues you are raising are (at the moment at least) beyond the realm of W3C. W3C is concerned about the core Web technology standards: even the EPUB format, though it relies on the Open Web Platform (as we call it in the W3C jargon) is defined in another organization (namely IDPF). The EPUB+WEB vision, in cooperation with IDPF, is clearly in our scope: it is on the relationship of EPUB and the Open Web Platform and looking at the technical challenges arising from that relation.

    The larger issues that you raise are, at least at the moment, not (yet?) in our scope in my view. Many of the techniques you are referring to are still in a reasearch phase; also, if we go a bit further we hit non-technical issues, too (e.g., what the assessment rules of scientist are, based on their research and social activities). There are a number of organizations out there that try to look into these issues (some of us in the W3C staff are present in, say, RDA or Force11) but all this is a subject of debates at the moment. Personally, I sincerly hope that, eventually, those discussions will lead to technical questions that definitely are in W3C’s realm. And hopefully we will be there to deal with them…



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