6736940485_f949fdc8bd_zHTML, the mark-up language that’s used to create websites, might be 20 years old, but its newest incarnation has only been around – in an official capacity, at least – for a few weeks. And it boasts a whole host of smart new functions that make it ideal for expressing feature-rich content. Here, we take a look at the software that’s widely thought to be the future of digital publishing.

HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is the very fabric of the Internet. In its most basic form, it’s a series of tags that describe how to present and structure content. The tags are then read by web browsers and converted into audio or visual content accordingly. These are the web pages that we see every day.

Over the years, there have been countless iterations of the language – in fact, it’s still evolving and will continue to do so. But in its cleverest and most current form, the language supports the latest trends in technology, from the rise of tablets to the demand for embedded video and audio content.

Digital content made easy

So what does this mean for the publishing industry? First and foremost, that HTML5 could provide publishers with the most exciting and intuitive way yet of producing digital content – particularly eBooks, which are already made using HTML.

Up until now, the book-publishing process has comprised a handful of stages that use different software. Sanders Kleinfeld, Director of Publishing Technology at O’Reilly Media, explains this traditional publishing model in the following way: “You author in a word-processing application, typeset and design in a desktop-publishing application and finally convert/export the content for print”.

So by producing an eBook, you’re effectively adding another conversion stage to the end of an already long and relatively disjointed process. With HTML5, on the other hand, we have the opportunity to rid ourselves of the digital “conversion” process altogether. Below, we explain how.

Going, going, gone

The digital-conversion business has been booming over the past decade. With the rise of digital publishing, countless companies have launched around the world with the sole purpose of taking print content and converting it to digital forms. This new breed of business has been so prolific, in fact, that digital conversion – including troubleshooting, clean-up and finally, output – has become a mini-industry in its own right.

But it’s a time-consuming and costly process. And with society’s tech obsession hurtling ever onwards, there’s a pressing need to find a less cumbersome, more streamlined workflow. Cue HTML5, and the “single-source workflow” it promises; in other words, one set of documents are used from cradle to grave, eliminating the need for conversions of any kind. Several leading lights in the industry are already trying it out.

A case study

The US company O’Reilly Media is one such proponent of this newly streamlined workflow, which has HTML5 at its heart. To showcase their idea, they built Atlas – a publishing tool for writing, editing and illustrating content that offers one-click print- and digital-publishing options. By standardising the formats of both source and output files – using HTMLBook, their own version of HTML5, for both – PDFs, ePUB and Mobi files are easier than ever to create.

“With this build functionality, Atlas effectively eliminated any cost or time entailed in the ebook conversion process, making it possible to release content into the market early and frequently”, says Kleinfeld.

Other highlights of the platform include the option to apply “themes” to alter the design – again, at the click of a button – and a user-friendly, collaborative interface to make in-text editing a breeze for contributors, be they authors, editors or production staff.  All in all, it’s a smart and simple way to churn out high-quality content in digital formats.

The bigger picture

In summary, the publishing possibilities brought about by HTML5 are massive. Not only is its development encouraging a “digital first” approach to content – a prerequisite for successful publishing today – but it’s increasing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the entire publishing process, allowing more creativity and agility than ever before.

Although the trend for using this innovative document format in publishing is still very much in its infancy, we’d bet our bottom dollar that in a few years’ time, creating content in HTML5 will be as routine a practice as using Microsoft Word and Adobe Indesign is right now. We’ll have to wait and see…

What’s your view on HTML5 in publishing? Let us know your thoughts below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks to Zhao! for the image.