New York is indeed the best city in the world. I don’t care what it throws at me: psychotic subway vagrants, violent bouncers, a nasty blizzard or a 36 hour door-to-door journey…yes I had fun with all that but I still love the fast moving brilliance of its creatives, the lack of haughtiness that pervades Old World global cities and that feeling that, despite everything that’s taken place in the past decade, this is still the most important place to be on this planet.
I was in this great city for O’Reilly’s Tools of Change digital publishing conference. I might sound like a doe-eyed publishing newb but it was fantastic to be able to see and hear so many of the great pundits and professionals in this industry whose blogs I read every day.

I recommend checking out conference videos from Inkling’s Matt MacInnis, Tim O’Reilly from his eponymous publishing company, Maria Popova from the awesome blog Brain Pickings and comic creator Mark Waid to get a sense of what’s happening in this space.

For all that’s said about the rise of Asia, there is still nothing in my own hemisphere that compares with this gathering. There maybe something I missed but I don’t think I saw a single delegate or speaker from Asia Pacific, though there were a few from the Middle East interested in developing Arabic- and Farsi-script e-books.
The biggest takeaway for me from this shindig is the sobering fact that whatever brilliant ideas I had about what I could achieve in the world of digital publishing, there is already a host of brilliant minds that are about 5-years ahead of me in these innovations. In some ways, that’s a lovely validation but it also means this race has already started and I just happened to land myself on the back of the second wave of runners.
The most salient highlight was the official launch of Inkling’s Habitat platform, which basically empowers any writer who wants to use the full functionality of HTML5 to build their product. Speaking of which, it was also encouraging to see industry moving to some degree of format harmonization at a much faster pace than was the case with digital formats  back in the 1980s. Not surprisingly, the Kindle’s tardiness in moving toward using HTML5 has come under close scrutiny and many people see great opportunities to fill the void that sits tantalizingly  gaping: humanity needs a solid e-reader (not just a browser) that can turn HTML5 into brain candy the for the 21st century bookworm. That said, there is another camp that awaits ePub3 to come good and deliver pretty much everything HTML5 can, which could also prove a game changer when that moment arrives.
A computer science still searching for a problem to solve is the bookish language around indexing and metadata. There was much chatter on this for people from Laura Dawson from Bowker and Hugh Maguire but both concede monetization remains elusive but that’s encouraging as it means it will just take some kind of visionary to make it happen.
There seems to be some kind of consensus that digital reading is currently in the “early mainstream” phase of the commercial and technological cycle, by Geoffrey Moore’s measurement of these movements.

So I have a bad feeling that whatever I’ve written in the real-estate above will be either gobbledygook to my nearest and dearest or just stupidly obvious to those who might actually take a professional interest in this technology. One interesting thing I had the providence to discover was what is taking place in the world of Bible publishing. Whatever you make of Christianity, religion or the Bible, there is no escaping the historical fact that the good book’s development as a published text has at all points been matched by broader changes in human history…from its transition from oral to written to printed media to the revolutions that challenged the supremacy of Latin as the authoritative language of the book.

I chatted to a couple of guys from Biblica, which publishes the New International Version of the Bible, who have published a version of their text that strips out chapter and verse numbers to restore the narrative that once existed but in its raw form. Little do many Bible readers realize that these numbers, which have been a great navigational device over the centuries, were not part of the original text. Digital technology now opens the way for alternative and much more effective navigational mechanisms however I do honestly wonder how much political and conservative nonsense these innovators of Bible reading may face as they seek to open up this book to much wider acceptance. I have lots of ideas about how innovators can make this ancient text a much more dynamic one so  it was good to get out and see what’s happening already. I will post more on this in the future but again, it was exciting to see people have already been giving this some thought.
I also want to say that in all honesty this trip would not have been possible but for one person who believes in what I’m doing and that’s my wife. It’s pretty difficult for a man who’s left his full-time paying  job to make the case for a conference trip half way across the globe leaving his wife and infant all alone for almost two weeks. But my wife not only gave me permission, she encouraged me to go.

One other great thing about this trip was the chance to see my brother who lives in beautiful upstate New York, the first time in almost  three years that I’ve been able to see him and his wife in person. We saw some good biff at the local ice-hockey match and beautiful snow-covered countryside in the hills near where he lives…more on that another time.