October 10, 2017

Skeptical of the W3C’s commitment to publishing? Exhibit A: The W3C Publishing Summit

Book shelf outlined in neon

As we were working toward combining the IDPF (the organization responsible for EPUB) with the W3C (the organization responsible for most of the standards of the Open Web Platform), and the convergence of EPUB and Web Publications (the topic of my previous blog), over the past couple of years, I heard from a number of skeptics who saw that development more cynically. They were afraid publishing was going to get swallowed up by the W3C, that our needs would ultimately be ignored, and that the standards we depend on—most importantly, EPUB—would be neglected or abandoned.

If anybody doubted the sincerity of the W3C’s commitment to publishing, I suggest they take a look at (or, ideally, attend!) the first-ever W3C Publishing Summit this November in San Francisco. And if you weren’t a doubter, take a look too—you’ll like what you see!

Diverse perspectives make great programs

First of all, full disclosure: I’m chair of the Program Committee for the Publishing Summit, and Apex is a sponsor. So of course I think it’s wonderful, and want it to succeed. But hey, it is wonderful!

For which I cannot take the credit. The programming of the Summit was done by the Program Committee; I just helped things move along and helped organize things. I’ve done this a lot in my many decades in publishing. I actually find it fun. Not to mention educational.

But only two or three of the speakers at the Summit were my suggestions. The reason for a Program Committee is to get a lot of perspectives, and boy did we get perspectives! The Program Committee was a diverse group—internationally, technically, and with a wide range of interests, passions, and connections. (And they weren’t shy about speaking up for their points of view!) Programming the Summit was one of the first priorities of the W3C Publishing Business Group, one of the new activities of the W3C devoted to publishing.

If anybody doubted the sincerity of the W3C’s commitment to publishing, I suggest they take a look at the first-ever W3C Publishing Summit.

We wanted to be sure that this first-ever W3C Publishing Summit—as much as possible—exhibited the full scope of the new commitment of the W3C to publishing in the broadest sense of the word. That’s what Publishing@W3C is all about. It’s not just for techies!

Let me give you some examples of sessions in the program that illustrate the breadth and diversity we were trying to achieve. This is by no means a comprehensive survey; there are many equally interesting sessions I don’t have room to mention here. You can go to the Publishing Summit Program for the details. I’ll just focus on a few that show the balance we were aiming for.

Yes, it’s about EPUB. Yes, it’s about Web Publications. Both!

One of the main goals of the Program Committee was really a dual goal: to make it crystal clear that the W3C is committed to EPUB, that EPUB is here to stay, while also making it clear that the work toward an ever more dynamic, interoperable, thoroughly web-based publishing ecosystem is well underway. This is central to the work on Web Publications, which includes the development of the next generation of EPUB, EPUB 4. That’s why the theme of the Summit is “How Web Technologies are Shaping Publishing Today, Tomorrow, and Beyond.”

  • Mustapha Lazrek and Ben Walters from Microsoft (did you know EPUB is embedded in the new Edge browser, and Windows 10?) are presenting a session on “Creating EPUB Content that Looks and Works Great Everywhere.” (Publishers and producers, please take note!)
  • Micah Bowers, the founder and CEO of Bluefire and a key participant in the development of the digital publishing technology we have come to take for granted, is presenting “The Fantastic Journey of Reading Systems: eReader Past, Mobile/Browser Present, VR/AR Future.”
  • Liisa McCloy-Kelley of Penguin Random House captures both today and tomorrow in her talk “Reading and Beyond.”

Publishing is international

The W3C is international to the core. It is hosted internationally (by hosts in the US, EU, and China); its management and staff are international (a shout-out to Ivan Herman, who has been so central to the convergence from the get-go, and who has not just my undying gratitude but my undying envy: he splits his time between Amsterdam and Aix-en-Provence!); and the participants in the many W3C business groups, interest groups, community groups, and working groups are very international (more gratitude: to those who live in time zones that require them to join the weekly conference calls at crazy hours).

Our dual goal: to make it crystal clear that the W3C is committed to EPUB while also making it clear that the work toward an ever more dynamic, interoperable, thoroughly web-based publishing ecosystem (including EPUB) is well underway.

As chance would have it, this first W3C Publishing Summit is in the US. That’s because it happens to be co-located with TPAC, the W3C’s main annual meeting of all its far-flung constituents, which is in the Bay Area this year. (Last year TPAC was in Lisbon.) Don’t let the location fool you: the Summit is as international as publishing itself is. A few examples:

  • Ben Dugas from Kobo—the leading EPUB e-reader in much of the world, based in Canada and owned by the Japanese firm Rakuten—is presenting a session called “Content, Platform, and Publishers: The International Perspective.”
  • Cristina Mussinelli, from the Italian Publishers Association, is leading a panel entitled “Digital Publishing in Asia, Europe, and Latin America,” with panelists from Japan, France, and Argentina.
  • Virginie Clayssen from Editys in France and president of EDRLab, the European Digital Reading Lab, is presenting a session on “France’s Mass Digitization Project,” which is making an enormous amount of legacy content available.

What’s cooking for publishing at the W3C

Of course one important mission of this first W3C Publishing Summit is to make people aware of all the great work that is being done in the W3C as a result of its new commitment to publishing.

  • Tzviya Siegman from Wiley, co-chair of the W3C Publishing Working Group, and Rick Johnson from VitalSource, co-chair of the W3C Publishing Business Group, will give an overview and update of the work of the Business Group (guiding strategy), the Community Group (maintaining and enhancing EPUB 3), and the Working Group (developing the new Web Publication standard, with its constituent aspects, Portable Web Publications and EPUB 4).
  • Judy Brewer from the W3C and Romain Deltour, George Kerscher, and Avneesh Singh from the DAISY Consortium will present a session on the all-important issue “Accessibility in Publishing and the W3C.” Accessibility is one of the core values of the W3C, critical across its work in all areas. This session will focus on its application specifically to publishing.
  • Jeff Jaffe, the W3C’s CEO, will alert our publishing audience to “New Developments in W3C Important to Publishers” that are of general use, and which may be developed outside the specific Publishing@W3C umbrella, like the recently completed Open Annotations work and the about-to-be completed Permissions and Obligations Expressions work, resulting in ODRL (the Open Digital Rights Language) as a full W3C Recommendation.

Practical means paying attention to what’s happening

Programs like this one tend to exhibit a tension between the practical, what-do-I-need-to-know-now topics, which meeting planners like to call “takeaways”—things you can take advantage of as soon as you get back home—and the more visionary topics (which some folks geek out on and others may dismiss as “pie in the sky”) about what’s just over the horizon but soon to be essential—hence the well-worn Wayne Gretzky admonition to “skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

I will close by pointing out that both are practical; that principle underlies everything you will hear at the W3C Publishing Summit. Of course you want to go home with insights you can put to use right away; but you want to be sure to do that in ways that prepare you for—rather than blocking you from—the advances publishing is making.

And we’re making them at quite a clip now in the W3C!

More information and registration for the W3C Publishing Summit 2017 is at https://www.w3.org/publishing/events/summit2017.

About Bill Kasdorf

Bill Kasdorf, kasdorf.bill@gmail.com, is Principal of Kasdorf & Associates, LLC, a publishing consultancy focusing on accessibility, XML/HTML/EPUB modeling, information infrastructure, and workflow. Bill is active in the W3C Publishing Business Group, Publishing Working Group, and EPUB 3 Community Group; chairs the Content Structure Committee of the Book Industry Study Group and is co-editor of the BISG Guide to Accessible Publishing; and is Past President of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP). He is a recipient of SSP’s Distinguished Service Award, the IDEAlliance/DEER Luminaire Award, and the Book Industry Study Group’s Industry Champion Award. Bill has written and spoken widely for organizations such as SSP, IPDF, BISG, DBW, IPTC, O’Reilly TOC, NISO, AAP, AAUP, ALPSP, and STM. General Editor of The Columbia Guide to Digital Publishing and Guest Editor of the January 2018 issue of the Learned Publishing journal devoted to accessibility, he is the author of the chapter on EPUB metadata and packaging for O’Reilly’s EPUB 3 Best Practices and the chapter on EPUB in the book The Critical Component: Standards in Information Distribution, published by the ALA in collaboration with NISO. He serves on the editorial boards of Learned Publishing and the Journal of Electronic Publishing. In his consulting practice, Bill has served clients globally, including large international publishers such as Pearson, Cengage, Wolters Kluwer, Kaplan, and Sage; scholarly presses and societies such as Harvard, MIT, Toronto, Taylor & Francis, Cambridge, and IEEE; aggregators such as VitalSource; and global publishing and library organizations such as the World Bank, the British Library, the Asian Development Bank, OCLC, and the European Union.