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Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Inauguration: Electronic publishing, the Internet, cross-compatibility

Welcome to this blog. Clearly, we hope that you will learn things (and enjoy it!). This post is an introduction to technology: why it’s important to us, how it’s important to us, and some of the basics you’ll want to know as you follow our posts.

So here goes: your crash course in electronic publishing. Starting now.

Probably the most important thing you need to know about to even begin to jump into the technology conversation: the Internet. You know the Internet. You’re on it now. In the last decade, it has become ubiquitous—and with the advent of Internet-connective handheld devices, it has essentially become the information library in our pockets.

I’m not going to tell you the entire history of the Internet, but I will give you a name: Tim Berners-Lee. Tim Berners-Lee, essentially, made the Internet into what we know it as today. He founded the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3), which took the markup language Berners-Lee developed (HTML) and created standards for it. They also made it free to the world.

This is important. Note that before Berners-Lee’s markup language, each browser required different markup language. (A markup language is a set of codes that help a computer browser display content with formatting and organization. Without markup language, we would have no way to distinguish between paragraphs, headings, titles… it’d be a mess.) Also not that, if he had wanted to, Berners-Lee could have taken this markup language to the bank: he could have refrained from making it public and instead sold it for lots of money to folks who needed to mark up browser content.

Instead, he made this language free. He founded the W3C to keep it free and to develop standards for the language. And so HTML became the new hot thing. One, because it was free. Two, because a huge benefit of Berners-Lee’s HTML was that it was compatible with all browsers (remember what we just said? Each browser at that time used different markup language. That meant that if you designed a site and wanted it to display on more than one browser, you had to program it in different languages.) We don’t think much about cross-compatibility between browsers now; sure, maybe Firefox or Chrome will render a page better than Internet Explorer, but you can still view basic content on all three. Thank Berners-Lee for that one.

And although this story is a good decade or two old, it’s very much relevant to ePublishing—because we’re living through a parallel of those incompatible browsers. Instead of browsers, though, we talk about this in terms of device: Kindle, Nook, iPad, e-reader. Instead of a bonanza of different programming languages, fortunately today there are only two that we are really concerned about: mobi and epub. We’ll talk more about these in a later post, but for now know that mobi and epub are not compatible with each other and are not compatible with devices that are made for the other.

Tune in (click in?) next time for ePub intro, part II, and a more in-depth exploration of ePub formats.

Note: Information from this post is taken from lectures by John Rodzvilla in the class Electronic Publishing Overview at Emerson College, Fall 2011.

About Leah Thompson

Writing and publishing professional in the Boston area.

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This entry was posted on November 5, 2011 by in Technology.

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