When I interviewed Liza Daly earlier this year she explained that she was active in following the development of HTML as it moved to something more structured and XML based, and that it is important for EPUB to be a rigorous standard. Ms. Daly noted that the revised EPUB standard needs to be implementable by anyone, including the self-published author or writers of 'create your own' cookbooks. She has followed the evolution of the Web and brings years of Web and publishing expertise to EPUB as a member of the IDPF Board of Directors. She has chosen open standards which emphasize simplicity and clarity and which are naturally accessible.
Inclusiveness and computing are deeply interconnected for me. My first experience with computers came about because my mother, a child psychologist and educator, understood even in 1980 that computers could be valuable tools for children with physical and mental disabilities. During the school week, the single computer in the school was used in her resource room for teaching and outreach; over holidays and summer break, she would pack it up and bring it home. There wasn't much you could do with these early machines other than learn to program. I was too young to understand the math and physics necessary to write videogames, but I could program interactive stories and text-based games.
Computers became no more than a word processing tool as I grew up. In college I earned a Master's degree in Psychology, specializing in the neurobiology of reading disabilities. While I loved research, I became increasingly immersed in text-based computing again, in the form of the pre-web Internet: newsgroups, Gopher, and email. Computing again became alluring as it was now a communication tool instead of merely a solitary intellectual challenge. When the web emerged, there was no question in my mind that this was about to usher in a fundamental shift in how we engaged with the world. I said goodbye to the academic path and became a full-time web developer.
For many software engineers, the code is all that matters: the content or purpose of the program is irrelevant. I've never been able to separate the two. If the purpose of the software doesn't interest me then I find it almost impossible to get excited about the project. In my first job, we produced companion web sites for public radio and television programs – this was content that mattered and that audiences felt deeply connected to, and that was rewarding. Later I joined a company that explicitly focused on higher education and e-learning projects. From there we moved into digital publishing. Building online research databases and digital encyclopedias was challenging, difficult work, but I appreciated the attention to detail and commitment to excellence that our academic publishers provided. I knew that I had found my niche in computing.
When I started Threepress Consulting it was with a specific goal to bring digital publishing tools to a wider range of publishers, using cost-saving mechanisms like a reliance on open source software and small, focused teams.
This was in 2008, and like most startups I faced an uncertain market with no customers and no budget (and no staff besides myself). I decided to bootstrap the business doing what I knew best: writing software. In June of 2008 I released the Bookworm web-based ereader. Bookworm exclusively uses the EPUB format; I knew about EPUB only from searching for an open ebook format. As a web developer, EPUB was an easy choice, as it was built on technologies like XHTML and CSS that I had been using for more than a decade. I didn't even realize that there were hardly any EPUB readers in existence, that the format had yet to take off commercially.
I didn't build Bookworm with accessibility in mind; I built it using web standards that emphasize simplicity and clarity and which are naturally accessible. Many print-disabled readers have told me that Bookworm is their primary ereader; that is fantastically rewarding. Members of DAISY and the DAISY community have advised me on methods to improve the software when it came to screen readers and other assistive technologies. Because the project is open-source, other volunteers have been able to contribute translations into other languages, which greatly increased the adoption of the software. Today there are more than 130,000 EPUB books loaded on Bookworm.
The lessons from building Bookworm, and from seeing the way ordinary users engage with digital books, have been invaluable for my business. I can speak with confidence to publishers and technology companies about what a range of users want from e-reading. The time and effort spent in creating an open source tool and providing it for free have paid off many times over.
No one was more surprised than me when I was elected to the Board of Directors for the IDPF, and it has been fantastic to work with George Kerscher and the other board members in our efforts to grow the organization in the wake of EPUB's commercial success. I'm extremely excited by the ambition expressed in the EPUB 3 charter, and the dedication of Markus Gylling and the EPUB 3 subcommittee leaders has been inspiring. It was a pleasure to speak about this work at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year in my presentation EPUB Evolutions.
While Threepress has developed a number of successful software projects, I'm most proud that Bookworm, and its commercial successor Ibis Reader, have been used as foundations for assistive reading programs. I'm delighted to have come full circle, thirty years later, with my software now back in the classroom, providing access to information that might otherwise have been out of reach.