What the Inventor of the World Wide Web Sees for the Future of Ebooks
Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 with the goal of making content on the internet interoperable and accessible, and today it is the primary way that people access the internet. Berners-Lee, keynote speaker at IDPF DigiCon @ BEA 2016, has a similar vision for the ebook and believes that publishers can utilize open web standards to interlink ebook content and share ebooks seamlessly across a host of devices and screens. Using the open web standard HTML 5, ebooks can assume a near-limitless number of forms. “What happens on the page is completely up to your imagination,” said Berners-Lee.
As ebook standards like EPUB 3 further align with open web standards, ebooks will transcend their containers, continued Berners-Lee. “The kind of coding you see in ebooks may also be used in cars, on screens of all kinds.” This is the future he argued publishers should be working towards.
The merging of ebook and web standards could occur faster than many in the industry may have anticipated, thanks to the possible merger of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). Berners-Lee, director of the W3C and Bill McCoy, executive director of the IDPF, announced this possible partnership at the close of the keynote. “It’s not a done deal,” said McCoy, “We are still exploring it.” Today, during the IDPF Open Member Meeting, members will discuss this potential merger and share their input.
Offering a taste of what combined ebook and web standards might look like, Berners-Lee shared four attributes that will define the open and interoperable ebook of the future:
Permanence. In a world of where ebook and web technology converge, ebooks will no longer disappear when new devices and formats emerge. They will live on because they are written in what Berners-Lee described as “the simplest coding language,” HTML 5. This is the foundation on which all web content is built, and Berners-Lee anticipates it will soon be the coding language on which all digital content is created.
Seamless. Because ebook content of the future will be created in HTML 5, it will seamlessly transition across different platforms as well as different content types. “Even though it creates some trouble [to make content interoperable], the trouble is worth it,” said Berners-Lee.
Linked. “We have not yet solved the cul-de-sac problem,” noted Berners-Lee. By that, he meant that books are still somewhat isolated experiences, and readers cannot easily navigate from that reading experience into related content. Berners-Lee envisions a future where ebooks are as interlinked as the web, utilizing hypertext links. As an example, he said that educational publishers could link together course materials so that students can more easily move to advanced materials as they gain mastery of a particular subject.
Trackable. Along with interlinking, content should be trackable, said Berners-Lee. Publishers must have the ability to understand how books are being read and shared. “We should live in a world of linked data,” he said.
Ultimately, Berners-Lee envisions a world where ebook content mimics the openness and accessibility of the web. In this future publishing environment, new opportunities to connect directly with readers and monetize content will arise. The possibilities, as Berners-Lee emphasized, will truly be endless.
More on the convergence of web standards and ebooks:
Paul Belfanti: Big Idea: How Books Can Move Beyond the “Tradigital”
Laura Dawson: Big Idea: The Future of Ebooks Is on the Web
Bill Kasdorf: Creating An Interoperable Publishing Ecosystem
Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.