Open eBook Standards Get Rolling

I’m a big proponent of open standards, but I must admit that standards group processes are often painfully slow, to the point of resembling Entmoots. But I’m very pleased, even a little surprised, to see ePublishing-related standards groups producing timely work products. I recently posted about the completion of the ISO standard PDF/A last Fall: the core of PDF becoming a full-fledged ISO standard is a very significant step for open standards in the publishing community.
Now, IDPF is moving aggressively to push forward open standards for reflow-centric documents. The IDPF Unified Container Format working group started last fall to develop a single-file packaging for XHTML-based OEBPS content has published finalized requirements, a public working draft is in the offing, and expectations are that a final standard can be completed within a matter of months. The IDPF Board has also unanimously approved creation of a new working group to complete a similar focused process to create an OEBPS 2.0 during this year.
The IPDF (originally OEBF) took some heat for having fallen asleep at the wheel after the crash of the original eBook hype bubble. But even IDPF critics acknowledge that the group moved with alacrity early on in creating OEBPS in the first place. I’m hopefully that the progress we’re seeing, in connection with re-engagement by Adobe and other participants, indicates a return to a rapid pace of standards development.
One reason for this is that IDPF technical experts are applying two key principles that served OEBF well “back in the day” : don’t renvent the wheel (adopt existing core standards where possible), and stay focused on concrete real-world requirements (don’t try to “boil the ocean” based on theoretical concerns).
With this approach, I could even see IDPF evolving into a similar role in the publishing industry as OMA plays in the mobile data industry: primarily a marketing group, with a technical arm that focuses on rapidly assembling industry-specific standards from existing primary standards developed by vendors or more ideally groups like W3C, and ultimately influencing the direction of these horizontal standards.
Since the new IDPF combines active participation of major publishers and other industry players, with a well-defined standards-development process that has been successful in the past and has a head of steam up once again, I’m optimistic that the group can be a powerful force in advancing the next stage of the digital publishing revolution. And after all, once the Ents finally got moving they defeated Isengard in a day.
Some long-time critics of IDPF inaction are even starting to grumble that the group may be moving too hastily. Ironic, yes, but also a good sign.