EPUB Is Growing Up

It was nearly two years ago that the IDPF released version 1 of the EPUB suite of standards and since that time the race to digital has been going full steam ahead and a lot has been learned by people and organizations who have implemented EPUB support in the real world. With that in mind the IDPF has struck up a working group for the next release of the EPUB standard. Now granted a suite of standards isn’t as sexy as releasing a new iphone app or a dedicated ereader or even debating what ebooks should cost, nevertheless standards are what drive the internet and standards will drive digital publishing and electronic reading.

The scope for the EPUB standards maintenance working group is simply:

  1. Resolving issues identified in current releases of the Standards
  2. Releasing updates to the Standards that resolve issues that are determined to be errors
  3. Tracking issues that are identified to be possible requirements for future standards development
  4. Reviewing guidelines and sample content developed in support of the Standards
  5. Developing and maintaining a set of conformance tests for EPUB rendering developed by the working group (Note: this is work inherited from the Publication Structure working group)

Keep the Standards Current and Up-to-date:

  1. Tracking technology and publishing trends that could influence the future direction of the Standards
  2. Recommending exploration of revisions to the Standards
  3. Collecting requirements for revisions to the Standards
  4. Analyzing requirements and determine if a revision of the Standards is to be recommended
  5. Participating in working groups for the revision of the Standards

BookNet Canada is sitting on the committee with observer status and one of the first things we noticed was how difficult it is to arrange a conference call for an international standards body. Surprisingly not everyone can make a 9:00 am est call, or a 1pm call or a 4 pm call or…. To make a long boring story slightly longer, the first call has taken place. It basically set out the framework for issue reporting and trackingall to take place in a wikiand emphasized the need to read the current standard.

Spec and standards development is more exciting then you would think. The committee started off with a bang and a lively email thread developed around the problem of DTD’s, XML processors and reading systems, attacking head on such a vital topic as whether an ePub file should contain all of the DTD’s that are pointed to in the document. Yes the poetic disputes between a validating reader system versus a non-validating system but ensuring that valid XHTML documents are the standard is a fascinating dialogue. It isn’t a dialogue that is going to make it into the NYT thankfully, but it does deserve a place in the chronicles of the digitization the publishing industry, and many of the participants see their role in that history as very vital. Lately I’ve been reading about the history of the transcontinental railroad. The fascinating thing about that project was all of the surveying that was going on. This seems to me a near perfect analogue for the latest activity of the idpf and the maintenance work group. The debate back and forth is akin to the search for the passage through the Rockies!

It would seem that the EPUB spec has entered into another stage of it’s life cycle. We are into the nitty gritty of tweaking in order to get a standard that is living into a more livable state. The end result is hopefully the evolution of a robust standard that will be able to support and enable the growth digital publishing, delivery and reading. Heavy lifting is required by many, perhaps some resurveying of the territory that has gone on in the past, but in every way this working group has the enviable task of creating the great links that will help deliver a major milestone in the history of the book.