Get Rich… Soon

With the EPUB 3.0.1 revision kicking into gear this week, I thought I’d do a quick review of what’s on the table, at least at the outset.

(Note that nothing cited in this post is guaranteed to be included in 3.0.1 until it’s in the final recommendation, so don’t quote my ramblings as authoritative!)

The most exciting new feature to me, as a data freak, is the potential inclusion of RDFa lite and microdata for enriching content. (I know I opened the issue, but I still think it’s exciting!)

If the difference between semantic inflection and enrichment makes you go “buh?”, one is for describing the nature of elements and the other is for describing your content. The existing epub:type attribute is a semantic inflection mechanism, as it lets you make more precise statements about the structure of your document (e.g., whether your section element represents an introduction, preface or chapter).

Microdata and RDFa lite are semantic enrichment mechanisms: they allow you to annotate the content itself with meaning. Picture being able to query and build information models about the people or places in an ebook and you get a sense of the power that these frameworks will bring.

Semantic enrichment isn’t the only interesting change potentially coming. A skim of the issue tracker shows:

  • a number of requests to clarify and expand the structural semantics vocabulary. I personally think this is fantastic, not only because I also think it will benefit from a review, but because it’s shows people are using it to enrich their data (always a plus for accessibility).
  • additional image formats may be allowed as content documents in the spine. This one always give me pause from an accessibility perspective, but with rendition switching — the ability to alternate between image-based and text formats — it hopefully won’t prove an issue when it comes to creating publications for more than just one reading modality.
  • the Fixed Layouts specification is slated to be rolled up into the formal EPUB 3 suite of specifications (right now it is a separate specification). It may remain its own specification document or the metadata could get rolled up into the Publications specification.

Being only a minor revision to the specification, there isn’t, of course, the same long list of exciting new features that the 3.0 revision brought. Much of the time will, undoubtedly, be spent on clarifications and bug fixes.

Another interesting development going on in parallel with the revision, however, is that ISO Technical Specification status is also being sought. The dates for this process are outlined in the project overview document. I don’t have any more details on this process (I’m not specifically involved in it), but I can perceive benefits to taking this step (e.g., certification is often a legal necessity for accessibility adoption).

But, in case it needs reiterating, we’re only just starting the revision. If you’ve discovered issues implementing the standard, or want to see new feature added, there’s still time to submit an issue. The request at the kick-off call was to get all issues logged by the end of March, although a formal cut-off for consideration is not slated until May.

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