The Accessibility of PL Research Papers on Mobile Devices

This is more of a meta usability issue than a substantive one, but I think it might concern a number of us, so at the risk of straying too far off topic, here goes:

Up until now I've been killing a lot of trees printing out PL research papers, most of which are distributed as two column PDF's in ACM conference paper format.

I would much rather load them all into a Sony Reader or similar device so I could keep my entire technical library with me on a memory card.

Unfortunately, these PDF's aren't in "Tagged PDF" format, which is to say that they aren't annotated with structural meta data that would let a mobile device "re-flow" them for display on a small screen.

Has anyone figured out a way, short of buying an expensive copy of the full Acrobat publishing software, to automatically add this tagging meta data to our papers or to otherwise strip out two column formatting from PDFs so they could be viewed at a reasonable size in landscape mode without having to read the top left column, scroll down to the bottom half of the left column, then back up to see the top of the right column, and then back down again to see the bottom right quadrant of the page?

Maybe we could all agree on some sort of secondary raw text, rtf, or XML-based distribution format that would be more amennable to use on mobile devices. The fixed page size two column layout served us well in the age of print, but in an age of digital paper and e-ink it seems a tad sub-optimal.

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PDF is almost open

Just wait a few weeks. The PDF markup language is about to become an open standard:

Adobe to make PDF an open standard

Hear, hear!

We should start distributing research papers in a layout-independent format. DocBook or even plain old HTML would be a real improvement over PDF for viewing online, not only on small-screen devices, but also for people with disabilities.

The fact that PDF is probably going to be an ISO standard does not change the fact that is a format for representing print copy, with very little possibilities for reformatting.

Let's keep this thred short.

Let's keep this thred short. General discussion of file formats is off topic (see the policy document).

Let's Form An Offline [Publication Format] Working Group

I knew this issue was borderline policy-wise, but felt that the potential payoff for the cummunity was worth the digression.

If anyone wants to join an informal working group to give this more thought, send your email to with a subject line prefixed with [publication format]. I'll reflect anything that comes in back to everyone else in the working group and figure out a way to post the comments on The IEUC website.

Then if we can arrive at a sound actionable proposal, we can share it with the community for Ehud's consideration.

If that sounds like a reasonable course of action, Ehud, we can just close this thread now and I can report back either directly to you (if you send me your email address) or via a new thread if and when we have a consensus.

In any case, please excuse this brief interruption of our usual high quality substantive proceedings. :-)

Sure, feel free to discuss

Sure, feel free to discuss this offline, if there's interest. If you come up with something that might be of interest, post a link.