By Rich Schwerdtfeger
Throughout the history of computing, software has typically advanced more quickly than the hardware on which it runs. But that’s not the case when it comes to documents and mobile devices. All too often, things like PDF documents and HTML pages are laborious to operate on a mobile device or limited in capability. When you consider the widespread and unrelenting proliferation of mobile devices, from smart phones to tablets, the problem was only going to get worse.
At IBM we viewed the challenge as an accessibility issue, one that was preventing consumers from viewing their desired content. So we set out to collaborate to create a solution that would help the literally billions of mobile users access and consume documents easily and without degradation of performance.
When developing an accessibility strategy for software we try to take a holistic view that is heavily dependent on open standards. When we set out on this journey, our two primary documentation formats were XHTML and PDF.
Working with the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), we are now adopting EPUB – an open document standard built on open web technologies from the World Wide Web Consortium HTML5; WAI-ARIA; CSS; MathML; and SMIL as well as other standards from IDPF – as one of our company’s primary packaged portable document formats.
An EPUB file is a compressed document set, taking less storage space on systems. And because EPUB is based on HTML5, it is much easier to translate and scan for data mining and analytics. In addition EPUB allows content producers to deliver dynamic interactive documents and tie those documents into cloud-based services.
Additionally, the integration of the addition of these open web MathML, SVG, and WAI-ARIA, and browser technology in general will allow content producers to provide advanced access to digital Math, Graphics, device independence, and user context adaptation in the future.
The applications for EPUB are broad, and range from technical and product manuals, to the classroom.
For example, IBM is making the transformation to EPUB. The IBM information development community, in particular, has experienced a smooth transition to the new format, primarily because our existing DITA-based content management solutions support it.
Perhaps one of the greatest values is how EPUB can feed into education. Many content providers, like Pearson, are already on track to deliver books in the EPUB format, aiming to make learning content in a much more interactive and accessible format to boost student engagement.
Yesterday, the EDUPUB workshop was held in Salt Lake City where industry experts, including IBM, are working to develop plans to expand on EPUB capabilities in the education publication space. EPUB3 and the EDUPUB collaboration among IMS, IDPF and W3C will provide the cross-platform, accessible foundation that is required for the education sector transformation. IMS Global Learning Consortium, led by Chief Executive Dr. Rob Abel, has been a great partner to IBM in this effort.
What’s more, is that EPUB moves us significantly closer to eradicating access barriers for students with disabilities in both enterprise and educational environments. The ease with which EPUB can make learning content more accessible to a broad range of student, such as impaired by blindness, low vision, dyslexia, and attention deficit issues.
The time for a new open and portable document format has come. EPUB has the potential to have a profound and positive impact on education, as well as industry, and usher in an era of inclusive publishing.