Helping the web and books become better friends

Ivan Herman is the Digital Publishing Activity Lead at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Tzviya Siegman is the Digital Book Standards and Capabilities Lead at Wiley, and co-chair of the W3C Digital Publishing Interest Group (DPUB IG). They’ve come together to discuss their work with the DPUB IG, and how it’s helping the web and books become better friends.

Bringing together the web and digital publishing communities

The formats used by ebook readers and tablets for digital publications are largely based on web technologies developed at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Commercial publishers also rely on W3C technologies in their back-end processing, all the way from authoring through to delivering the printed or electronic product and beyond. One could say that the publishing industry is one of the largest communities relying on a large palette of W3C technologies.

Publishing has also high technical demands; for example, in typesetting and graphics, high-level interactivity, and rich media. The experience in aesthetics and ergonomy that the publishing industry has accumulated over centuries should not be lost in this new era. However, standards bodies outside of the publishing industry know little about the detailed requirements of publishers, as they did not contribute to the development of these foundational standards. If the digital publishing industry is not present at the table, the features it needs will not be considered. This leads to fragmentation, interoperability issues, and a disconnect between the publishing industry and, for example, the browser world.

W3C’s Digital Publishing Interest Group

To bridge this gap, the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) and the W3C cooperated to form the W3C Digital Publishing Interest Group (DPUB IG) in June 2013. The group’s mission states that the DPUB IG is:

“a forum for experts in the digital publishing ecosystem […] for technical discussions, gathering use cases and requirements to align the existing formats and technologies (e.g., for electronic books) with those used by [W3C’s] Open Web Platform.”

The DPUB IG brings publishing experts together to identify issues that are not, or not adequately, addressed by the current generation of W3C technologies. These issues and requirements are documented and contacts are established with relevant working groups at the W3C who update or develop specifications based on this information.

Obviously, the job of the DPUB IG is complex. To manage it, task forces were created to reflect participants’ interests. There are a number of task forces that work within the DPUB IG as well as with other W3C working groups to assess the requirements of the publishing industry. See the DPUB Wiki for a list of task forces, activities, and publications.


In addition to these activities, experts at W3C and IDPF published the white paper, “Advancing Portable Documents for the Open Web Platform: EPUB-WEB.” This (unofficial) paper outlines a vision of portable documents as native citizens of the web. Quoting from the white paper:

“Our vision for EPUB-WEB is that 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. Publishers can choose to utilize either or both of these publishing modes, and users can choose either or both of these consumption modes. 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.”

EPUB-WEB may have a profound influence in a number of areas of publishing, including educational and scholarly publishing, ebooks, in-house documentation systems, and, of course, the way users manage documents on the web.

In the coming months, we’ll concentrate on whether and how this overall vision can be put into practice and if it will result in a next generation of EPUB format that might reconcile the worlds of publishing and the web. At the moment, the focus is on gathering comments, and identifying further technical challenges as well as feasibility issues. (The authors welcome issues and comments from anyone via the github issue system.)

Tzviya and Ivan will be continuing this discussion at ebookcraft this March at their session, Bringing Together the Web and Digital Publishing Communities. Learn more here.