OpenReader, Victorious

The OpenReader Consortium was formed in early 2004 as a grass-roots effort to foster the development of an open, non-proprietary next-generation eBook standard, based on and addressing key limitations of the then-stagnant IDPF OEBPS. The OpenReader vision was to end the “Tower of eBabel” of incompatible proprietary formats that has plagued the nascent digital publishing industry. Recently there has been some strife between leaders of the OpenReader effort. One of them, David Rothman of TeleRead, has suggested that I speak out on the OpenReader situation, inviting me to post on the teleread site (this article may appear there in slightly edited form).
Well, in my book, the squabbling amongst OpenReader folks obscures the real point. OpenReader can justifiably take a bow and declare victory on its initial goals. OpenReader acted as a major kick in the pants to a revitalized IDPF organization, which has in the last year finalized a container packaging standard and released a working draft of the next version of OEBPS, all very much in line with the format-related aspects of the original OpenReader goals, and benefiting from participation of key OpenReader leaders including Jon Noring. Proprietary reflow-centric formats (Mobipocket, .LIT, eReader, Sony BBEB, etc.) are on the verge of becoming obsolete. So the “threat” of OpenReader forking a dormant OEBPS is no longer necessary, and could only make the Tower of eBabel worse.
As Chess great Aron Nimzovich said, “the threat is stronger than its execution”. This principle also implies not sticking with the same threat longer than necessary. What I see as the real core value of OpenReader is a thoroughly independent perspective, a mindset that is inherently (even overly) suspicious of large corporate interests, be they large publishers or large tech vendors. Whether a group be industry-specific, like IDPF or OMA, or broad-based, like OASIS and W3C, commercial interests are generally going to be at the forefront. So speaking as an individual who wants to see digital publsihing blossom, rather than as an Adobe employee, I see the value to the open standards ecosystem of the kind of “irritant” role that OpenReader has played. There are clearly other areas in which OpenReader could stay relevant and constructively agitate for progress, including open source implementations of the new open standards, and the interoperable “friendly DRM” that David, Jon and others have often mentioned (but never detailed).
So how about we (OpenReader leaders and fellow-travellers) declare victory with respect to the base content format – maintaining vigilence with a skeptical eye towards the IDPF and other standards groups – and move on to focus on these other areas, and foster yet more progress towards a future in which all published content is reliably available in digital form?