Why the IDPF should reject the merger with the W3C

Full disclosure: I am not a member of either the IDPF or the W3C. I am proposing 5DOC offline HTML docs as an alternative to ePUB and PDF.

I recommend the IDPF reject the merger with the W3C and demand a better deal before reconsidering this move. I signed the petition.

While I initially thought the merger was a good idea, as a outside participant in the W3C-IDPF DIGIPUB-IG Portable Web Publications (PWP) project, I have first-hand exposure to the significant dangers this merger poses to the future of offline publishing.

It is clear that the IDPF entered into this arraignment with the W3C before fully considering the ramifications of ceding control of its future platform and without obtaining assurances from the W3C that PORTABILITY, the defining aspect of the ePUB platform, would be maintained.

Indeed, at the first opportunity last month (September 2016), key W3C participants in the PWP collaboration moved to KILL that first “P”, the portability “P”, from the project’s aspirations. The following are a series of clips that link to the source on GitHub.

So what’s going on here? Is the merger about replacing Readium with a purely web solution? What about ePUB?

This is where the IDPF must ask itself some tough questions:

  1. Is ePUB a success or more appropriately why hasn’t ePUB succeeded in becoming a universally used standard for offline documents like, for example, PDF?
  2. What can be done to improve the situation?
I believe that in the future, members of the IDPF & the publishing community will use the browser to display on- & offline content.

I concluded several years ago that the biggest problem with ePUB is its dependency on Reading Systems to display content in a multi-platform world where no two RSs are alike in features or functions. While Readium is a way around this, it is a purely web-based solution. It was on this point that the PWP project, I guess it’s now just WP, took a hard swerve into another lane, frankly another type of lane.

In defense of the merger, Tzviya Siegman, co-chair of both the W3C’s Digital Publishing Interest Group and the EPUB 3.1 Working Group, has offered up two areas of benefit to the IDPF:

  1. ePUB is dependent on, although behind, key W3C specifications, “…such as HTML, CSS…”
  2. The IDPF will benefit from W3C work and provide “direct input to… ideas such as Progressive Web Apps, Web App Manifest, and Service Workers.”

By moving to the browser, as 1) infers, the IDPF will immediately become code compatible with the Open Web Platform. The benefits of this would be enormous. Just in the single area of Open Access academic publishing, this would enable publishers to leverage online content and format for offline use in an open data accessible format instead of forcing users to switch to the screen unfriendly PDF.

But I quickly learned that W3C folk had no intention of pursuing this path. Instead, as noted in 2) the DIGIPUB-IG has now been exposed to the wonders of new fangled technologies, still not universally implemented, a world where real offline access would be replaced by a glorified cache system ignominiously called ‘Service Workers’.

The W3C doesn’t want to encourage use of the browser for offline access to HTML docs. I have explained the situation regarding the File URL in a previous post.

In all honesty, file:///, after over 20 years, is a bit long in the tooth. It needs to be updated to support compressed containers in a similar, but not identical, way to ePUB.

In order to accomplish this, I created a W3C Community Group, Offline URL, and I offered to Bill McCoy, Executive Director of the IDPF and Ivan Herman, Technical Lead of Digital Publishing at the W3C, the opportunity to appoint the Chair, but I never received a response.

Straight Talk

  1. Prior to any merger discussions, the IDPF must obtain a commitment from the W3C to update the File URL.
  2. If this pledge proves impossible to achieve, the IDPF should turn to the IETF, who are the actual ‘owners’ of the File URL.
  3. If the IDPF declines to pursue the modernisation of the File URL, an alternative organisation should be set up to pursue this.
IMO, the best solution for the IDPF, W3C and billions of users is one that leverages the Open Web Platform to support a range of offline access methods!

PS

I will followup this post with an analysis of past W3C efforts to improve File URL and a technical discussion of how Service Workers and 5DOC today (and a new Offline URL tomorow) are derived from the same basic logic and can easily co-exist on the Open Web Platform.