Posted on 24 September 2010
This was going to be a post about how I fell in love with Scribd, but instead it’s one about how I could have fell in love with it, but instead now find it less than perfect.
First, what is Scribd? The object at the top of this post is both a guide to what it is, and an example of what it is. It’s a way of sharing documents (.pdf, .doc, .txt or pretty much anything else) across the web in a format that is readable on any screen without losing styles such as font or spacings. In that sense it’s a lot like Google Docs, but to my mind it has one clear advantage: the ability to embed the documents in a page. That’s how you’re able to read the little presentation above without having to go to a different page. And for me, it was a huge boon– over the last couple of days, I’ve used it to put volunteer forms on the Coldsnap website, foster requirements on FerretsNorth.org, and a full policy manual on CFUR. No clumsy attachments on the page, no worries about whether or not the forms are compatible with the user’s software– it’s right there, for all to see. Why is this important? One of the number one barriers to having the general public access forms (like ferret adoption forms) has been the complaint “I wasn’t able to download the document.” Often, it simply means they weren’t able to find the link to click on to take you to the document page and then download it. But with Scribd (it seemed), the document was there in plain sight– impossible to miss! Easy to read! And downloadable and printable right there from the page! It was this last point that made me fall out of love with it.
Indeed, Scribd documents do have “download” and “print” buttons right on them. And when I was testing them out, they worked great– you could even choose what format to download in, depending on your preference. But after putting them on the Ferrets North website, I decided to show off what I had done to my significant other. I went on her computer, navigated to the page, demonstrated the full-screen read mode, and then hit “download.”
Went to the document page and hit download. This time, it took me to the login/signup page.
Every other time I’d been testing Scribd, I’d been logged in. And when I was, everything worked fine. But apparently, without an account, you can’t download documents. A new step– and a new barrier. This is the exact opposite of why I wanted to use Scribd.
I wanted to use Scribd because it reduced the number of steps it took for someone to access forms. But in order to download something like a volunteer form, they are now being asked to sign up for yet another service. Granted, it’s easy enough– anyone with a Facebook account or e-mail address can do it– but for some people, the requirement of having to hand over your information to another website will be enough to deter them. And that might be enough to deter them from using the form at all.
Scribd is still a good service. Embedding is fantastic, and anyone (with or without an account) can still read and print documents. But I wonder why they’ve decided to make this little barrier to downloading. In their FAQ, all they offer is a vague notion of curbing “abuse of the Scribd system“, which I suspect might be linked to their metrics, but if that’s the case I would happily make it so my forms aren’t measured in their system so that they are freely downloadable. Or why not just have captcha requirements for downloads in order to verify your humanity?
As it is, I’ll still be using it, but I’ll be keeping my eyes open for something better, and I’ll be offering links to Google Docs files for those who want to download without an account. As soon as Google perfects an embed system (they currently only offer .pdf embeds, and they’re less than perfect), Scribd will be out of luck.
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