Semantically Structuring HTML

I don’t know what has me thinking about the use of the epub:type attribute to structure HTML markup today, except for the obvious sad fact that I like thinking about markup issues.

The attribute is increasingly being used to build a kind of semantic scaffolding to prop up the generic markup that is HTML — going beyond simple semantic inflection of structures into semantic markup models where there are required parent and child relationships.

It’s not a new idea, but can it succeed in EPUB?
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Hyperlink to non-standard resource …

If you’ve seen this message from epubcheck, you know where this post is going.

It’s easy to get tripped up on EPUB’s web-like, but not quite web, quirks, as what is valid to do on in a web page isn’t always valid to do in an EPUB. Particularly when it comes to linking to resources, as you have to follow EPUB’s core media type requirements.

If epubcheck has spewed the “hyperlink to non-standard resource” message at you, it’s because you can only have internal links go to XHTML or SVG documents, at least without a fallback.

But don’t fret. There are some easy, and not-so-easy, workarounds to this problem, which is what I’m going to look at.

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Who’s afraid of the world wide web?

There are certain aspects of EPUB 3 that are underspecified by default.

The navigation document I detailed in the last post is one example. While the rules for structuring the markup are delineated in the specification, the specification itself is not out to mandate the presentation.

Scripting is another example, but in a slightly different way. JavaScript is already well defined, so the flexibility doesn’t come from under-specification of the technology, but from flexibility to restrict what a script can do. Although this flexibility was given with best of intentions, content creators are now finding themselves at the mercy of the lowest common support denominator.
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Tables of Contents Revisited

Alas… I don’t think I can say I learned while working on the best practices book that no matter how detailed you think you’ve reviewed your prose, some flubs will make it through.

Only because I learned that lesson a long time ago when I first got into publishing. I’ve seen notes from an author to an editor in a final print run, after all. (Thankfully, the editor wasn’t me!)

It doesn’t surprise me, then, that some errata has been noted, or that I’m the one reporting some of it. You can only hope that your mistakes are small, and the errata haven’t been all that critical to date.

That said, when you make an error, there’s no point running from it, and the two bits of errata that most bother me are both in the navigation chapter. I just gave a brief synopsis of one of the issues in the IDPF forums, so I figured I’d take a little more time to outline them both here.

And maybe take a look at a couple of additional clarifications we tried to make during the 3.0.1 revision, as grasping the in-spine and out-of-spine uses is proving to be generally confusing.

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The death of headers and footers… for now

Page headerIf you’ve ever tried to create custom headers and footers for your ebook, you probably realized pretty quickly that it’s a near impossible task. Although reading systems generate their own headers and footers, control over them has never been afforded to the people creating the content.

The EPUB specification has, for a long time, included the custom CSS values oeb-page-head and oeb-page-foot for the display property. Control over the headers and footers was ostensibly given to content creators by setting these values on an element containing the header or footer. I’d typically give an example of how this is done, except…

Despite the best intentions of the specification, no one’s implemented the feature in a reading system (or not very well, as Digital Editions has an awkward attempt at them). But optimism prevailed, and the functionality has persisted through revisions without any real-world application. That is, until 3.0.1.

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Some Nuances of Media Overlays

Although support for text and audio synchronization in EPUB reading systems still isn’t complete or perfect, we’ve been learning more about the optimal ways to generate the content.

I keep having conversations about overlays and then keep forgetting to write down what the issues and resolutions are, so decided to make that the topic for the day.

This post will probably be a bit of a hodgepodge of ideas, so you’ll just have to bear with me.

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New in EPUB Fixed Layouts

To keep with a theme of looking at things that are coming soon, I thought today I’d give a quick update on the fixed layout properties.

One of the big changes in the 3.0.1 revision was to integrate the previous fixed layouts information document into the Publications and Content Documents specifications, and make support for fixed layouts required in reading systems. It was deemed to have earned its wings, if you will, and belong as a core feature of EPUB.
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Zip it… zip it good!

So I’ve decided my new year’s resolution is to never again explain zipping an EPUB.

While it’s probably unrealistic to expect the question won’t be posed to me by someone somewhere — thinking IDPF forums here — my dream is just to point people to this post and not spend any more time on the subject.

If you’ve mastered the nuances of EPUB archives, warning in advance that this is probably not the read for you.
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EPUB Previews

I’m sure at some point you’ve downloaded a preview of an ebook from your ebookstore of choice. Sometimes the content is utterly useless in terms of deciding whether you want to purchase the book — a bunch of front matter splatter. Is reading the copyrights, preface, dedication, etc. really useful? What if there’s an index at the back you’d like to look at? What if you’re the content creator who wants the reader to have access to that index?

Of course, sometimes you get useful previews, but I’m trying to highlight the problem of previews being in the hands of vendor: you can never be completely sure what will be in them. Unless the publisher runs the ebookstore, it’s not their choice what you see.

The EPUB Previews specification seeks to flip that paradigm back around so that the content creator is the one who decides what goes in the preview. The specification is not yet a recommendation, but should be sometime (hopefully early) this year. As it’s one of the more stable specifications the working group has published, I thought I’d give it a quick run-through, but caveat emptor if you try to jump the gun on it becoming a recommendation.
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DAISY to EPUB Migration

It’s the oft asked question: if EPUB is the future of accessible digital reading, when should I migrate?

The easy part is asking the question, the hard part is giving a meaningful answer. I know I don’t have a perfect one to offer up, as a lot of what is most impressive about EPUB is still not implemented at this point. But there are other reasons that make the transition a challenge beyond feature support in reading systems.
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