Looking Back to Move Forward Series—Part II
Idealliance: Accelerating Supply Chain Innovation for Fifty-Five Years
The Information Technology Years 1980-2005
In January 2021 Idealliance celebrates its 55th Anniversary. As we look back it is important to see how Idealliance fostered the development and adoption of key information technologies that today form the foundation of the Internet and server to server communication protocols across the print media supply chain. Idealliance DNA is steady and unfailing – creating change-oriented and digital-centric initiatives engaging collaboratively all partners in a supply chain. From 1980 until today, Idealliance has redefined itself and the industry through its focus on information technologies.
If you would like to contribute to our Look Back to Look Forward Series contact David Steinhardt, Managing Director, at email@example.com.
In the Beginning
Idealliance was initially founded in January 1966 as the Computer Section of the Printing Industries of America (PIA). See the rest of Part I Here ».
1980–1996; From Gencode to SGML
The first staff director, Norman W. Scharpf was a former employee of IBM. The Computer Section of PIA grew as printers began to see how employing computer technology could provide efficiencies in the publishing, print and mailing supply chain. In 1969, the Computer Section of PIA changed the name to the Graphic Communications Computer Association (GCCA) and soon after to simply Graphic Communications Association or GCA.
In the early 1980’s Norman Scharpf, now President of GCA, was briefed on a new approach for computerized composition developed by three fellow IBMers, Goldfarb, Moser and Laurie. In those times, electronic markup codes were embedded with text and graphics to drive computerized composition systems. The composition systems read proprietary markup codes such as [bold], [14pt], [centerAlign] or [breakPage] to format text to drive typesetting systems. IBM’s vision was a new kind of electronic markup, called “Gencodes”, based on the idea that the electronic code could serve two purposes:
- Identify the text structure being formatted such as <title>, <para>, or <chapter>.
- Map each generic code to precise typesetting instructions such as “bold”, “centerAlign” or <breakPage>.
The idea of Gencode was so powerful because for the first time, markup could drive typeset layout and could also be used to apply data processing techniques to the text. For example, by tracking all text marked up as <title>, a “Table of Contents” could automatically be constructed. Likewise, complex indices and cross references could be constructed. Automation of text composition meant more efficient typesetting and could ultimately increase print production and have a positive impact on the print revenue stream.
Once the idea of Gencode gained acceptance, there was a move to standardize the concept and so it was moved into the International Standards Organization, ISO. GCA stepped up to become the hosting organization for ISO 8879, Standard Generalized Markup Language (or SGML).
ISO 8879 was approved as a Draft International Standard in late 1984. GCA immediately stepped into the role as the global training and implementation organization for SGML. During the years from 1985 – 1996, GCA conducted SGML training programs throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. In addition to the revenue stream from these global training programs, Idealliance hosted annual “Markup” conferences in the US and Europe.
Following the publication of ISO 8879, the Association became highly involved by hosting numerous working groups that brought members together to develop specialized tag sets for many reference publishing applications. Working groups from the US Department of Defense, the Air Transport Association and Society of Automotive Engineers met at GCA events to develop standardized markup sets for such publications as aircraft maintenance manuals, flight operations manuals and automotive repair manuals. Those with an interest in implementing SGML-based publishing systems became new members of GCA. This generation of members included DoD/military, Boeing, McDonald Douglas, Martin Marietta, General Dynamics, United Airlines, Delta Airlines, American Airlines, Ford Motor Company, Daimler Chrysler, and General Motors.
1997–2005; The XML Years
In 1997, two communities converged. The first was the SGML community which formed under GCA leadership. The second community was the Web community. This was the group that developed and fostered HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). While there was a similar “look” to markup codes from each community, the purpose was different. SGML was used to markup text based on its intellectual content constructs while HTML was used to markup text for presentation with browser technology.
SGML was complex, had a rigid set of usage rules and required deliberate design for each content domain. So, tagging an aircraft maintenance manual differed dramatically from tagging a racing form. And the function of data tagged with one set was dramatically different from the function of data tagged with the other set. HTML, on the other hand, was very simple and had few usage rules. It was designed for the sole purpose of presenting text and graphics in an internet browser but could not be used to apply advanced data processing techniques to Web content. At that time, the only interaction possible on the Internet was to view simple Web pages and to link from one page to another. The idea of using the Web to purchase goods or to register for a conference or stream video content was simply not possible because HTML was too simple for such business purposes!
When the two communities came together, they built a new language for the Web. This language, “eXtensible Markup Language”, or XML merged the strengths of SGML and of HTML. The first public announcement of XML took place at GCA’s SGML 97 Conference. The following year GCA launched XML training programs and changed the name of its major conference to XML 98.
As it turns out, XML formed a new foundation for the Web by enabling business applications, such as shopping, registration, and online communication applications. The launch of XML with the new capabilities it enabled fueled a tremendous tech sector growth, often referred to as the “dot com” era. And with that growth, the membership, training, and events offered by GCA grew as well. Membership now included new tech companies and tech giants such as Microsoft, Oracle, and Google. GCA’s largest conference was its XML2000 conference with over 2,000 attendees and a show floor of over 200 tech vendors. At this point, the focus and mission of GCA had evolved beyond the print-centric goals of its host organization, Printing Industries of America. PIA was profiting from GCA’s successes but had little or any understanding of what GCA had become or the membership it served.
In early 2001, with David Steinhardt as its new CEO, GCA became Idealliance and permanently separated from PIA. The new independent Association was preparing for their XML2001 Conference when the world changed. On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked. All air travel was suspended, the dot com era came to an end, and Idealliance was in for some difficult times. The staff of 24 was reduced to seven, conference revenue halted and once more Idealliance was challenged to reinvent itself.
2001 and Beyond
In the years following 9-11, interest in information technology specifications hosted by Idealliance continued to thrive. Several initiatives are of note:
- Mail.Dat®/Mail.XML™: These mailing standards are embraced by a significant portion of the mail production industry and the US Postal Service to facilitate efficient and process-enhancing communications among those providing list processing, mail production and mailing services. Mail.XML is an XML-based protocol that provides transactional two-way server-based communication between the USPS and the mail production industry.
- papinet®: A broad XML-based standard structure for business documents in the global forest and paper industry. The standard was developed in collaboration with papinet GIE, a European based consortium of paper companies.
- PRISM® Metadata Specifications: Nine PRISM specifications define taxonomies for publishing that can serve as the basis for asset management, delivery, and publication. Specifications include metadata for magazine articles, recipes, contract management, crafts and crafting and usage rights.
- PRISM® Controlled Vocabularies: PRISM includes over thirty sets of terms and definitions, that provide a standardized way to organize and communicate knowledge. Examples of PRISM CV’s include audience sector, article genre, issue frequency, cooking cuisine, cooking skill level, season, and image orientation
- PAMW: This XML tag set provides a standard format for publishers to use for capturing Web and mobile content and to transmit XML-encoded content and associated metadata to aggregators and syndicators.
- PAM: The PRISM Aggregator Message defines an XML tag set that can be used to encode magazine articles and metadata in XML to deliver to content aggregators.
- pamP: The PRISM Aggregator/Distributor Message Package was developed to meet three use cases that represent the magazine and news publishing model found today in Japan to support the transition of delivering magazine content as PDF pages with PRISM metadata to hybrid and eventually to deliver complete HTML5 pages.
- PSV: The PRISM Source Vocabulary defines XML structures for designing a content repository or for tagging source content.
- ICE: The Information and Content Exchange Specification provides a model for automated content syndication using XML and Web Services messaging.
In 2010, the publishing industry was forever changed with the introduction of the Apple iPad. Suddenly there was a viable digital publishing platform. No longer was print the only delivery medium for magazine and catalog content. While some people read magazines on their desktop or laptop computer, functionality was limited to PDF page-turner editions. But the iPad changed the game in every way by introducing stunning visuals and a great level of interactivity that could never be available in the print product. Concurrently new aggregation/syndication models emerged so that magazines, or articles across multiple magazines could be recombined and streamed as a single subscription. Idealliance responded by organizing eMedia21 composed of publishers in the US and UK to exchange ideas and cooperate on print and digital workflows. eMedia21 was extremely active and provided a network for communication and collaboration for publishers to address seismic changes in audience channels and workflows.
The result of the ensuing technology changes from 2010 forward caused a great upheaval across the Idealliance publisher membership. Suddenly it was the “wild” west, with mergers, acquisitions, and new entries to the market. Magazine production with print service providers as partners began to re-invent, but the publishing community as we knew it was no more. With membership scattered or decimated, the need for Idealliance to take a leadership role ceased in publishing and Idealliance turned its focus back to its roots – print technology.
Today the information technology specifications developed by Idealliance remain available on the Idealliance website and remain available, free of charge for public review and use.