Books in Browsers 2013


I went to my second Books in Browsers last week (see last year’s recap day 1 and recap day 2), and was not disappointed! For those who many not know, Books in Browsers is “a small summit for the new generation of internet publishing companies, focusing on developers and designers who are building and launching tools for online storytelling, expression, and art.” It takes place at the Internet Archive in San Francisco, which is a really cool place.


The conference lasted two days, but I’ll just recap some of the highlights here. You can find the full schedule here, and the whole conference was filmed, so for anyone who is interested, find videos of all the presentations here. (Say Books also has a nice summary and analysis of the conference.)

First, I found it interesting that CA seems to have the most privacy laws in place to protect its citizens. Nicole Ozer,  from ACLU-NorCal, said that in 2011 California enacted a reader privacy act, where basically all apps with users in CA must have easy to find privacy policies.

A couple other interesting tidbits that I plan to look more into are EPUB CFI (canonical identifier) and Pathagar. EPUB CFI is a specification that uses a common syntax to identify and reference content in an e-book. Pathagar is an open publication distribution system. You can see a Slideshare that explains in more detail here.

Born Accessible with Gerardo Capiel, Benetech

Gerardo Capiel made a lot of interesting points and gave a lot of good food for thought regarding digital documents. There’s such a thing as “born digital,” meaning something was made digital first, with digital in mind, but not all born digital documents are born accessible. Born accessible means, for example, someone who is blind can still access it.

One way to make digital docs more accessible is to embed descriptions within svgs. According to Capiel, svg can become a tactile graphic, raised to feel like Braille. Benetech also uses a tool called Poet, which crowd sources image descriptions from thousands of volunteers at university events. This also helps students with print disabilities. Additionally, MathML can help make math more accessible. Capiel said that both Safari and Firebox browsers support MathML, but Chrome only lets you listen to MathML, and does not offer visual support.

But the final frontier, Capiel said, is interactive content. He said it’s better if you don’t build books as native apps, but instead build accessibility features into content creation tools so authors can easily add to it. Additionally, it’s good to build open source projects like Readium.

Textbooks in Browsers: An Editor for Creating, Adapting, and Sharing with Kathi Fletcher, Shuttleworth Foundation

Kathi Fletcher talked about mixing and adapting textbooks, and having tools that can auto generate flash cards and tailor practice problems. One way to do this would be to find definitions and make flash cards or use notes to auto generate flash cards and practice problems, via

But in order to create these tools, Fletcher said we will need a common format, an easy to use editor, and publicly available books. There is already a book editor on GitHub, which can save edits online. It’s similar to Word and Google docs, and supports attribution and remixing. In the future it will ask for source information to make the process more automated, and help create both born digital and born accessible content.

Another theme in the conference was about collaborative authoring. I think as people get more and more comfortable with digital, having widespread collaboration becomes easier. One great example of this is GrammoWriMo, which will aim to have the largest group of authors to ever collaborate on a novel.


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