IDPF and W3C: tecnical tests of collaboration between publishing and web at TPAC 2016

The last edition of TPAC 2016, the annual meeting of the W3C Technical Plenary, took place at the end of September. TPAC is the most important meeting of all those who contribute to the working groups  which partecipate in the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and which constitute the backbone of the activities within it: from social web to Rich Internet Application, from online payment securit  to accessibility and Internet of Things. During this TPAC took place also the Advisory Committee Meetings, where it was analyzed its possible evolution and the state of art of the web was thoroughly discussed.

This year TPAC has been exceptionally open also to the members of the Board dell’IDPF, just to allow us to better understand how to work and to actively participate in the activities of interest for the publishing industry.

After the announcement of the possible merger between IDPF and W3C in May, the TPAC was therefore an opportunity for the two organizations to make a point about the possible future cooperation, the objectives and the operational manner to follow.

The themes on which the interests of the publishing and the world of the Web can find fertile ground for collaboration and mutual exchange are mainly three: Portable Web Publications (PWP), accessibility of publications and the development CSSsstyle sheets to define the graphical formatting of publications.

The collaboration between IDPF and W3C has been already put to the test on the subject of the PWP, since May 2013, when it was created the Digital Publishing Interest Group, which has deepened the relationship between offline publications (downloadable) using the EPUB and those who use the HTML5 online.

Whereas the EPUB is based on HTML for its specifications, “portable” documents are already citizens to all intents of Open Web Platform and, eventually, the separation between online and offline might vanish.


The objective shared by IDPF and W3C is therefore to make sure that, on one hand, the publications produced mainly to be read offline can also be used online by opening them within a browser, without losing any of its editorial characteristics, and, on the other hand,  contenst created primarily for online can also be easily stored as “portable” documents and used offline, all without the need to further processing, but automatically based on the reading mode chosen by the users.

It is important to highlight that we are not just talking about e-books but of all types of publications, even those that are currently produced only in PDF.

During the meeting of the Digital Publishing Interest Group several possible use cases were examined and the requirement of the project, which was presented for public review a few days before the TPAC, were detailed

It was interesting to hear the comments of some pure web developers in a discussion until now limited to a closed group of digital publishing experts, and the lively comparison between their views and those of the representatives of the publishing world, especially on the relationships between portable publications and the use of browsers for offline reading. The discussion ended with the decision to split the use cases into two sections: one centered on web publications, which explores how content downloaded from the web can be managed in a browser, and one on the needs of  the publishing industry, such as how to store such content for the use or offline exchange.

The second focus of the discussions was the accessibility of digital publications for people with visual disabilities, a theme that has become increasingly important for the publishing sector, especially in view of the legislative proposals being discussed at European level: the ratification of the Marrakech Treaty, the proposed European accessibility Act, which includes e-books between the products and services that should be accessible, the proposal  for a Directive and a Regulation of the European Parliament for the accessibility of publications.

The IDPF has recently published two new draft specifications: the Conformance and Discovery Requirements for EPUB Publications, which define the formal requirements to address in order to produce contents which can be certified as accessible and the EPUB Accessibility Techniques that provide the information necessary to meet these requirements. The innovative thing is that, thanks to the collaboration between the iDPF and a11y group within W3C, this work is based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) of the W3C and therefore it is an adaptation of the WCAG standards to EPUB format. The discussion between web technicians and representatives of the publishing world has had in this case immediate feedback: the acceptance of the proposal made to predict the next evolution of CSS native support for MathML, so as to facilitate the graphical representation of equations in browsers and other mathematical formulas, an essential factor for accessibility.

The third aspect on which the collaborative efforts  were concentrated was how to improve the methods of content representation using CSS. Some of the main problems that currently the web has are related to the complexity of editorial publications and to the difficulty of being able to satisfy traditional online reading habits. An example is the spelling of the pages: in current browsers there is no native way to turn pages, or manage complex layouts on many columns. There have been, within the W3C working group, initiatives to address this problem (such as CSS Paged Media, CSS Fragmentation or CSS Regions), but none has been implemented on a large scale and for browser developers has never been a priority. The solution could come from the CSS Houdini project, which should allow developers a DIY approach (do it yourself) to ‘layout, by giving themrs access to the internal parts of the CSS engine via API.

After participating in various working groups and participated in plenary sessions of the Advisory Committee opened with the keynote speech by Tim Berners-Lee, the impression is that closer cooperation can be of benefit to both worlds: publishers, for example, could bring their demands of technological innovation to experts of the digital world and ask them appropriate solutions focused on the most editorial aspects,while the web community could instead benefit from the long experience and in-depth knowledge of the publishers in the design and management of complex layouts, typography and graphics.

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