More Progress on Digital Publishing Standards

The IDPF today issued a press release covering a number of positive developments in standardization of digital publishing formats. To me the key underlying messages here are improved cooperation within the digital publishing industry and across standards groups.
Successful industry standards should codify and “bless” established best practices – trying to do invention in committee leads to “castles in the sky” failures. It’s critical to have multiple parties committed to implementing a proposed standard. Appropos is Michi Henning’s just published article in ACM Queue, The Rise and Fall of CORBA. So it’s great to have multiple vendors announcing implementation plans around IDPF standards for reflowable eBooks. While PDF is firmly established as the standard for paginated fixed-format content, we need to get past the “Seven Dwarfs” of competing proprietary approaches for “liquid” reflowable textual content. Coalescing around enhancing OEBPS, the incumbent standard interchange format for reflowable eBooks, supports the general principle for standards success.
Of course the last thing we need is a splinter “fork” of OEBPS but luckily this is shaping up to be a non-starter. Kudos to the OpenReader folks though for keeping the lights on after the eBooks 1.0 bust, for acting as a prod to the industry around the need for open standards, and for contributing to the IDPF standards development process.
Another important principle is appropriate cooperation across standards groups and industry consortia. Unnecessarily duplicative standards fragment the market and block interoperability, which is after all the main goal of open standards. IDPF is well along the way to taking the approach of successful industry-specific groups like the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA). OMA has the means to create industry-specific standards when necessary, but by preference leverages and cooperates with broader industry standards like W3C and OASIS. IDPF joining OASIS and working to align OEBPS Container Packaging with OASIS OpenDocument is a positive development, and should lead to further cooperation. Working more closely with DAISY should lead to open standards that meet requirements for profitable commercial digital publishing as well as accessibility requirements such as NIMAS.

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