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A sensible look at HTML5 and publishing

Sanders Kleinfeld on how book publishers can put HTML5 to use.

EPUB 3 and Kindle Format 8 both boast support for HTML5, but what exactly is HTML5 and what is its role in publishing? For insight on these questions — and practical ways HTML5 can be used by publishers — I reached out to Sanders Kleinfeld (@sandersk), author of “HTML5 for Publishers.” (Kleinfeld also will present an HTML5 for Publishers webcast on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 — you can register to attend here.)

Our interview follows.

Why should publishers care about HTML5?

Sanders Kleinfeld: HTML5 is the future of digital publishing. If you’re a publisher who’s interested in staying competitive in the ebook landscape, it’s quite crucial that you understand what HTML5 is all about.

So what is HTML5, exactly? The term is thrown around a lot, but it seems undefined.

SandersKleinfeld.jpgSanders Kleinfeld: The term “HTML5″ is indeed used very fluidly in tech discourse, and it has really become a signifier for a constellation of different technologies, some only loosely related to actual HTML markup. When people refer to HTML5, they’re usually talking about some combination of the following next-generation web technologies: Canvas, geolocation, native audio/video, local storage, and CSS3.

In your book, you instruct readers on using the <canvas> element. What is that and why is it helpful?

Sanders Kleinfeld: The <canvas> element allows you to embed an interactive sketchpad into your web or ebook content. You can control it with JavaScript. Because the canvas is scriptable, it opens the door to everything from computer-generated drawings to animations and full-fledged games. If you’re interested in “app-ifying” your ebook (i.e., adding the kinds of interactive features that are the hallmark of iPhone or Android Apps), the <canvas> element and its associated API are the tools that are going to allow you to accomplish that.

How can publishers make use of HTML5′s geolocation abilities?

Sanders Kleinfeld: Much as websites like Google already customize search results and advertisements based on users’ locations, geolocation enables publishers to tailor their ebook content based on where their readers are currently located. This seems particularly beneficial to publishers of travel or restaurant guides, as they can sort and customize hotel/dining reviews based on proximity to the reader’s location, suggest points of interest nearby, and perhaps even offer directions from one locale to another.

In “HTML5 for Publishers,” I explore the possibility of geolocated fiction, where the reader’s current location actually figures into the text of the story. [Click here to see an example of this in action.]

More avant-garde uses of geolocation in ebooks might extend to interactive activities and games like geocaching.

The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) has signed off on EPUB 3. What effect will EPUB 3 have on HTML5?

Sanders Kleinfeld: Prior to the finalization of EPUB 3, the EPUB format already had a huge amount of momentum behind it, as an open standard supported by nearly every major ereading platform: iBooks for iPhone/iPad, Nook, Sony Reader, Adobe Digital Editions, etc. — Amazon’s Kindle is really the only notable exception. The release of the EPUB 3 standard, which designates HTML5 as the language to be used for ebook content documents, firmly aligns the format with next-generation web technology. I think it’s going to serve as one of the primary catalysts for publishers to get into the HTML5 game and for the major ereading platforms to adopt robust HTML5 support. Publishers are clamoring to enhance their ebooks with interactive and multimedia features, ereader manufacturers want to support these features, and EPUB 3 provides a clearly defined path forward.

We’re already beginning to see support for HTML5 features emerge on some of the most popular ereaders. Both iBooks and the Nook Color already support HTML5 audio and video, as do cloud platforms like Ibis Reader. IBooks also supports many <canvas> features. I think it’s just a matter of time before other ereaders follow suit.

HTML5 for Publishers — This free ebook provides an overview of some of the most exciting features HTML5 provides to ebook content creators — audio/video, geolocation, and the canvas — and shows how to put them in action.

What’s your take on Kindle Format 8?

Sanders Kleinfeld: Kindle Format 8 (KF8) is Amazon’s answer to EPUB 3. It’s a proprietary standard for Amazon’s ereader platforms that adds support for HTML5 and CSS3. Amazon recently published a list of KF8′s new capabilities.

Prior to KF8, Kindle’s CSS support in Mobi 7 was rather rudimentary, which posed many challenges to ebook publishers with highly graphical content that demanded sophisticated, precise layout. KF8 provides the necessary tools for producing these types of books. It will facilitate the creation of children’s books, comic books, and other graphically rich content for Kindle.

More generally, KF8 is also going to make it easier for publishers to make “prettier” ebooks for Kindle, and I think it’s important not to dismiss the value of aesthetics to the ereading experience. With the release of the Kindle Fire, Amazon is clearly looking to establish itself as a player in the tablet market, and I think KF8 is going to help Kindle keep pace with iBooks.

That said, while I’m encouraged to see Kindle adopt greater HTML5 support, as a staunch open source advocate and sometimes-beleaguered ebook developer who would love all ereaders to unite behind one file format, very little would make me happier than seeing Amazon adopt the EPUB 3 standard.

What’s the best way for publishers to approach your book? Is it more of an introduction, or do they need some basic knowledge first?

Sanders Kleinfeld: In “HTML5 for Publishers,” I provide an overview of the HTML5 technologies I believe will be most important to the next wave of ebook innovation, along with sample code and demos showing these HTML5 features in action. No formal knowledge of HTML or programming is necessary to appreciate “HTML5 for Publishers,” but if you’re interested in diving in and developing your own HTML5 content, some background in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript will most certainly be helpful. I provide links to additional HTML5 resources throughout the book for those looking to learn more.

What should publishers keep in mind as they explore HTML5 for their own needs?

Sanders Kleinfeld: As with every new technology, I think it’s important for publishers to take a step back and not allow the hype to distract from practicality.

Consider what aspects of HTML5 might benefit and enhance your ebook program, and employ them judiciously. For example, if you’re publishing a series of foreign language guides, embedding HTML5 audio/video content throughout your ebooks will likely be received as a welcome enhancement to readers. But if you’re publishing serious literature, adding lots of audio and video may be a distraction. Don’t be afraid to be innovative, but always put your readership’s needs first.

This interview was edited and condensed.

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  • Ari

    Nice post. Simple and informative.

  • http://www.pensacola-fl.com Pensacola-FL

    Kindle Format 8 is great. I also bought the Fire for my daughter