Here’s a postscript to a story we covered a few months ago: the proposed merger of the organizations responsible for overseeing the standards for the world wide web and EPUB ebooks.
As it happens, the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum) have just announced they’ve made up their minds and the merge is going to happen. The proposal was put to a vote among the IDPF’s member organizations and passed overwhelmingly with 72 votes in favor, 10 opposed, and 4 abstentions. 44 of the IDPF’s 130 members did not cast votes.
The press release notes that they still have to iron out the final details of how the merger will work, but it is definitely going to happen. Beyond that, the release offers no further details about what this merger will mean–though as we reported in our previous story, the idea is apparently that it will give the IDPF better access to the people responsible for codifying the web standards on which EPUB is based, and will allow the W3C to better incorporate EPUB standards into the web.
I haven’t been able to find very many recent reports on the merger or what it will mean, though I have found a couple of pieces from people dubious of or opposed to the merger on principle. In June, Todd Carpenter worried that the merge would dilute the representation of publishers–the businesses most concerned with the EPUB standard. Publishers and publishing-related nonprofits make up the majority of the IDPF but very little of the W3C.
More recently, the developer behind the 5DOC offline HTML document platform, intended as an EPUB alternative, writes that he doesn’t like the direction the W3C’s Portable Web Publication project is moving–dropping the “Portable” from its name in order to focus on things like “CSS rendering fidelity and perhaps pagination.”
The developer writes:
It is clear that the IDPF entered into this arraignment with the W3C beforefully 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.
He notes that EPUB suffers from fragmentation across all the different Reading Systems designed to display ebooks on different platforms–no two of which display EPUBs exactly alike. (This is a problem that I’ve remarked on from time to time myself, given that some EPUB readers are willing to honor non-breaking spaces to produce blank paragraphs and others are not.) He doesn’t see the IDPF doing anything to try to resolve this issue, or to push the wider adoption of EPUB as “a universally used standard for offline documents like, for example, PDF”.
The 5DOC developer also complains that the file:// URL standard hasn’t been updated in 20 years, but the W3C seems unwilling to do so. It apparently doesn’t want to push the use of the browser for accessing offline files, in favor of replacing such access with “a glorified cache system ignominiously called ‘Service Workers’.”
So, is the merger actually a good idea? I honestly don’t know enough about the issues at hand to say. Discussions of what standards to support and how to support them are the entire purpose such groups exist, and arguments about such matters tend to come off as a little too “inside baseball” for me to make sense out of.
It does sound like both organizations have resources the other can use, but the question is whether merging to make them available to each other will be detrimental to the identity of the groups, and their ability to get things accomplished. And that may be a question that only time can answer.