Evolution of the Digital Print Medium

During the last 50 years, great strides within the field of computer technology have paved the way for digital print publication to become a viable option for creators and readers. Below are several key events that directly influenced the development of digital text-based applications.


The American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII), the first text-encoding standards for computers, was developed. ASCII assigned each letter in the standard English alphabet its own binary code based on telegraphic notation. Numbers, special characters, and symbols were also defined.


Michael Hart transcribed the Declaration of Independence, creating the first intentional digital text. He went on to develop Project Gutenberg, a public, free database where works in the public domain can be downloaded in plain text format.

Early 1980s

Fully functional desktop publishing and word processing software was created and released, with an internal fixed-page structure and typography that allowed for printing.

Late 1980s

Widespread acceptance of the DOC file types as the standard document structure occurred.

Early 1990s

Adobe PDF was developed as a way to share documents across a variety of computer platforms and operating systems. It was first made public in 1993, and was among a number of competing formats such as DjVu, Envoy, Common Ground Digital Paper, Farallon Replica, and Adobe's own PostScript format (.ps). In early years, before the rise of the World Wide Web and HTML documents, PDF was popular mainly in desktop publishing workflows. It eventually became the standard for printable documents on the web. Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) became the first online markup language to incorporate both content and presentation markup, creating “re-flowable” content (content that will adapt structurally to a variety of browser sizes and operating systems).

Late 1990s

Extensible Markup Language (XML) was developed to aid in the transition between HTML and its upgrade, XHTML, allowing users to define their own type setting and structural framework, instead of being subject to the fixed framework of HTML.


XML became the universal e-Book production standard and exchange format. Entry by Storm B. Stuart