W3C’s Jeff Jaffe: With IDPF Onboard, Time for a New ‘Publishing Roadmap’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Despite months of controversy, today a newly merged World Wide Web Consortium and IDPF begin work as one organization—Jeff Jaffe’s ’empowering environment’ for publishing’s development.

Jeff Jaffe. Image: Provided by W3C

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘To Drive the Future of Publishing’
The Web is “nothing more than a publishing mechanism,” says Jeff Jaffe, and today (February 1), the World Wide Web Consortium, known as W3C, is announcing its official kickoff to what it’s calling “a new roadmap for the future of publishing.”

“Around 2011 or 2012 we began to see that so many industries were becoming critically dependent on the Web as their delivery mechanism.”Jeff Jaffe

Technically, this indicates the completion of an eight-month process that sees the combination of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) and the WC3, and formalizes the development at W3C of a “publishing vertical,” or hub of publishing-related activity within the organization, to be called Publishing@W3C.

W3C, as defined by its press materials, is “the global standards organization that develops foundational Web technologies such as HTML, CSS, SVG, XML and WCAG.”

And IDPF created the EPUB standard, which is used globally for ebooks and and other digital publications.

Jaffe, with his background at IBM, Nokia, Lucent, and Novell, brings a refreshingly high view to the long march of publishing and Web technology toward each other.

“In the early years,” he tells Publishing Perspectives, “what you sacrificed was quality. Because you couldn’t get the kind of beautiful graphics and styling that you had with traditional publishing” on paper.

“In the quarter-century-plus since the Web started, things keep getting better and better on the Web. And that’s driven the publishing industry to adopt more and more Web technology, to the extent that EPUB3 is substantially built on top of HTML5 and CSS3. So it’s built on W3C technologies.

“And we see that only continuing and intensifying with time. We started a digital publishing activity in W3C several years ago, to make sure that as we enhanced CSS and put more capabilities in, we were being sensitive to the needs of publishers.”

In November, member organizations of IDPF voted for the absorption of IDPF into W3C, the approval gaining 72 of 86 votes.

And going forward, the plan is for Publishing@W3C to lead development of standards around, as media materials have it, “how we will read, author, publish, and discover content and services with Web technologies.”

“The other side” of the shared intention of the merger, Jaffe says, has more to do with the content itself and how its authors may want it to exist and function in future evocations of reading.

“When you think of ebooks,” he says, “you can view them as a kind of publication, using Web technology. And that concept—that there’s a set of curated text that wants to have its own identity as a publication on the Web—that’s actually not limited to ebooks. That’s something that’s universal. We need that concept of a Web publication throughout the Web.

“So we have these two technology drivers happening simultaneously. We looked at that over the last years and most intently in the last year, and we saw that there’s just tremendous synergy between these two organizations.”

IDPF members are being offered membership in W3C at a reduced “transitional” rate, as Jaffe describes it. The publishing members’ rate will allow them to work specifically in the interest group of W3C’s publishing activity. But Jaffe says he hopes that newly migrated members from IDPF will want to broaden their participation to full membership (at a higher fee) as they become more familiar with the areas in which W3C is working, such as core technologies, entertainment, and payments on the Web.

Uneasy Bedfellows
“The primary motivation to combine IDPF with W3C was to ensure that EPUB’s future will be well-integrated with, and in the mainstream of, the overall Open Web Platform.”Bill McCoy

The coming together of IDPF and W3C hasn’t been without controversy. As Publishing Perspectives reported in May, the idea of the merger was introduced at BookExpo America in Chicago, catching many in the IDPF DigiCon audience by surprise. Here was Tim Berners-Lee with IDPF director Bill McCoy telling the house, “The convergence between books and the Web is really, really important.”

A contentious meeting followed the announcement at the IDPF conference, critics charging primarily that the loss of IDPF to house the EPUB standard’s development would mean a loss of advocacy for digital publishing in the much larger W3C environment.

Although the IDPF membership’s 88-percent vote of approval was made in November, as recently as January 13, Publishers Weekly was reporting on an attempt by OverDrive’s Steve Potash to block the merger. And on January 18, McCoy led a lunchtime IDPF meeting at the DBW conference in which a few detractors were heard from, Potash chief among them.

In a guest article at Digital Book World, McCoy—who has a job now with W3C in “overseeing a smooth transition,” as press materials note— laid out the case for the merger. His key argument there is that development of the EPUB standard on which IDPF’s work has focused not be siloed from other elements of Web standard development. He wrote, in part:

Bill McCoy

“The primary motivation to combine IDPF with W3C now was to ensure that EPUB’s future will be well-integrated with, and in the mainstream of, the overall Open Web Platform (on which EPUB is fundamentally based).

“The world needs an accessible, mobile-ready portable document format, not one stuck with a paper-replica model. EPUB has successfully delivered on this but has not yet been widely adopted across all parts of publishing.

“Meanwhile, W3C has been working for more than two years on a concept of ‘Portable Web Publications’ and continues to be supportive of enhancing publishing features throughout the Open Web Platform.”

The former board members of IDPF are taking seats on the W3C Publishing Steering Committee and, as W3C’s press statement puts it, “providing strategic direction and liaising with the publishing community and the various Publishing@W3C groups.” Those interested in more on participation in Publishing@W3C activities are invited to contact Alan Bird, global business development leader, at abird@w3.org.

W3C is organizationally run by the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (MIT CSAIL) in the States; the France-based European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM); Japan’s Keio University; and China’s Beihang University.

The ‘Why Now’ Question
In merging IDPF and W3C, “we’re going to have everybody in the same place and a much larger set of stakeholders who are looking at all these technologies and opportunities at the same time.”Jeff Jaffe

Beyond the issues of a sometimes bumpy transformation of IDPF into a part of W3C, there’s a question to be asked about why this coming together is happening now, in early 2017. And Jaffe has some of his most interesting comments to make on that topic. In a sense, W3C has been waiting as the world’s industries began to catch up with its interest in standards.

W3C has more than 400 members and was founded by Berners-Lee in October 1994 at MIT to promote the definition and compatibility of Web standards.

“For most of our history,” Jaffe says, “we didn’t have a strong focus on industries in general. It was more focusing on the Web that every consumer sees. I’d say it was around 2011 or 2012 that we began to see that so many industries were becoming critically dependent on the Web as their delivery mechanism, how they were reaching customers.

“Around then, we created something called the Web and TV Interest Group, because all of a sudden, people were saying, ‘Well why not deliver all content on the Web?’ That was a sea-change.

“After we started with entertainment, digital publishing came soon after. I think it was in 2013, we started the Digital Publishing Interest Group.” But that effort couldn’t reflect all the digital publishing companies and associated industry players, of course. “What’s new and exciting about the combination” with IDPF “is that we’re going to have everybody in the same place and a much larger set of stakeholders who are looking at all these technologies and opportunities at the same time.”

Jeff Jaffe says his objective is “to make Publishing@W3C “a very comfortable home to drive the future of publishing.”

He says he hopes that those who supported IDPF merger with W3C—and those who didn’t—will find the new arrangement “an empowering environment to get their ideas on the table and work together to move publishing forward.”

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.