Electronic Publishing

A Workshop at the 1st International WWW Conference, Geneva, May 1994

Steven Pemberton, CWI, Amsterdam; Steven.Pemberton@cwi.nl;

The original intention of the workshops had been that people should register for them individually before coming to the conference, to allow for better organisation of the workshops, knowing how many would come.

Only 5 people registered for the Electronic Publishing workshop, and so a relatively small room was reserved for it; we had planned then each to give a presentation of 10 to 15 minutes on our aims, needs, and targets, leading to a longer discussion.

In the event more than 40 people turned up, which made for quite a cramped meeting, and a last-minute change in how the workshop was run. (It also prompts the question of how many people might have turned up to the workshops that were cancelled because no one registered for them.)

There was 3 hours allocated to the workshop, so we dedicated the first half to the identification of issues, interests and problem areas, and the second half to discussion of a small selection of the more burning issues.

There was a very broad range of interests amongst the attendees, from people just there to learn what it was all about, and to observe, to representatives of large international publishers and magazines who were either already publishing electronically, or with plans for publications far in the pipe-line.


After the first session of collection and initial discussion, we collected the issues under four main headings:

These areas are of course not mutually exclusive; for example, access control is both an administrative and a technical issue.

Social issues

New processes

What is new about electronic publishing, over and above just republishing what we already have on paper in an electronic form? What can be supplied that is different? What new forms of information can be supplied? What new ways are there for accessing information? How will these new forms and supplies of information affect how people access and relate to information and publications?


What is to be done for people who have no access to the net, a CD, a computer, or the other forms of technology that will be used? Should the information still be published on paper as well as electronically? Aren't we further disenfranchising such people, especially people from less technologically advanced countries?

Continuous vs discrete publications

To what extent is it acceptable to change the content of publications over time, by updating information? Should there be discrete publications, with separate new editions as they are updated, as is now with current paper-based publications, or is it acceptable to let them change? Are there types of publications that may not be changed? What is there dividing line?

"Freedom of speech"

What are the issues involved regarding control on the content of publications from external sources? Do constitutional guarantees still apply to electronic documents? What are the international issues involved with transferring documents over national borders?

Political issues

Peer review/citation/cheating

How do we get electronic publication accepted at a formal level, so that they can be accepted for tenure and CV purposes, for citing purposes? How do we cite those publications? How do we prevent authors from going back and changing a document to make it look like something else was said?

Archiving/past and future compatibility/bit rot

How can we assure that documents are still locatable, accessible and readable 100 years from now?


How can we guarantee copyright in a medium that is so easy to copy? What are the new issues here?

Administrative issues

Funding/adverts/loss of subscribers

How can publishers continue to guarantee income? Will advertisers be willing to pay for adverts? How do you identify the size of readership? Will readers continue to subscribe if the publication is available both on paper at a cost and electronically for free?

What is a subscription?

What is it a subscriber should pay for? A fixed number of issues? Access to past issues as well? Access to everything for a fixed time?

Access control/authentication

How do you restrict access to subscribers only?

Technical issues


What is the easiest way to convert existing information to on-line form? What is the easiest way to produce a publication simultaneously electronically and on paper? What tools are there for creating electronic documents? What formats should you use? How can you avoid locking yourself in when things are changing so quickly? How can you best structure your documents independently of how they should look? How do you deal with the differences between paper and electronic formats, such as the essential pagination of paper documents vs. the lack of the same electronically? How do you guarantee the look of your document when the technology dictates large parts of the look, such as HTML?

The User Interface

How can you format and present the information to make it easier to read and use? What are the new issues with regards to finding and using information?


How do you structure documents so that the user can print them and only get the needed information? How do you make printing easy, so that the user doesn't have to follow all hyperlinks by hand in order to print a document out?


In the end we chose three sub-topics to discuss in the second session: Current Experience, where people who already had extensive experience described the processes they go through to produce an issue, what they consider the more important issues, and how they address them, Access Control, and Copyright, though we left that to last, as it was clear from the first session that it was a topic that threatened to swamp all other discussion.

The large list of topics above makes it clear that Electronic Publishing is such a large area that it cannot be adequately covered in a single workshop. The individual topics are large enough in themselves to be worthy of a whole workshop, or indeed conference, on their own.