Saturday, November 8, 2008

Scribd - YouTube for Published Documents

A few months ago, I stumbled upon Scribd (, a site where authors can publish their writings. I found it in a roundabout way, actually.

I wasn't looking for a way to publish my documents (I have two web servers where I can house my documents, and I have Google Docs on my Google account) - I was looking for an essay on network security, and the search engine brought me to Scribd. Once I was there, Scribd piqued my interest.

General Information About the Company

Scribd was founded in 2006 by Trip Adler, Jared Friedman, and Tikhon Bernstam on a budget of a mere $12,000. As of 2008, they have received over $3 million dollars in funding. Scribd's mission was to provide a way for people (primarily authors) to host shared documents on the web. Scribd also partners with publishing companies so publishers can use the site for publishing content.


In 2008, Scribd launched iPaper, a Flash-based interface which allows a user to embed documents in webpages and blogs. For example, if you have a website or blog and you don't want the reader to exit your site, you can embed the document in your webpage or blog page (like you can with YouTube). Scribd also launched an API that developers can use to implement the functionality in the developers' own site. The marketing point on iPaper is it eliminates the need for readers to have other readers on their machine, such as the Adobe Acrobat Reader and the Microsoft Office Readers.

Here's an example of embedding iPaper in the site:

An Analysis of Scribd

There are a number of things that impressed me about the product.

  • It's free to use. I don't profit from my blog or my web site, and all of the costs for my web servers are out-of-pocket. Therefore, finding ways to control my costs is important to me. I can register to use the site for free, and I can host my writings for free.

  • I have more space on my web servers. Because my documents are being hosted on a third party site, I can utilize the space on my web servers for other things, such as a download site for my applications.

  • My documents reach a larger audience. Before using Scribd, I wasn't getting many hits from my documents. They were only being read if someone accessed it through my blog or if someone stumbled upon it from a Google search. Since publishing my documents one week ago, my readership rate doubled, and it's still growing.

  • If you are looking to make additional money with your documents, you can use their "Ads for PDF" program that will embed ads in your documents, and you can also earn ad revenue from your site if you embed iPaper documents on your site. Visit their site for more details.

DMCA: Digital Millenium Copyright Act - full explanation

There are some things that need to be addressed, though.

  • Like YouTube, Scribd has experienced some legal problems with their user base violating the DMCA (ex: users uploading PDF versions of copyrighted textbooks). However, Scribd has taken measures to remove content that violates copyrights, such as introducting copyright filters.

  • It appears that the iPaper control doesn't play nicely with some of the documents that are uploaded. For example, I noticed that some of the documents had unreadable characters that rendered through iPaper, but if I downloaded the document to my local machine as the document's native format (ex: PDF), the document renders fine on my local machine using the document's native format reader (ex: Adobe Acrobat).

Here is some additional information about Scribd

  • I haven't tried this myself (which is why I categorized this as an "unknown"), but I have read reports from various users that Scribd's iPaper doesn't work well on mobile devices such as the iPhone. If you have a chance to test this on a mobile device, please let me know.

  • If you are going to use Scribd as a hosting solution for documents that you've written, make sure you have a backup strategy in place. For example, I have my documents on local media (my personal machine and flash drives) as well as Scribd.

  • It's not a true document sharing tool by definition because you can't edit the content of your documents on the server once they are published. As a workaround, you can work on the document on your local machine and upload the latest changes to Scribd without losing your original statistics. While some authors critiqued this, I didn't really think it was a downside because I view Scribd as a content hosting server (like YouTube) rather than a document sharing tool (like SharePoint).

Why I Started Using Scribd

The main reason why I started using Scribd was cost. I wanted to make more room on my web servers without having to pay for more disk space, and Scribd was a tool that I can use to host documents that I've written at the lowest possible cost. Another reason was a way to build my career portfolio. Based on what I've seen in my web access statistics, my documents on Linux that I've written were reaching a healthy audience, but my other documents weren't getting as many hits. I wanted to be able to reach a larger audience, and Scribd was a tool that helped me do so.

Like Scribd, YouTube was intended for use as a site where people can publish their videos. Agents and producers search through YouTube to find new talent for free, and television networks use YouTube to publish their content rather than using their own web servers.

The intended use for MySpace was to provide a social network for musicians. MySpace has become a social network tool for users from all walks of life, including celebrities. MySpace is also been used by professional models as a way to publish their portfolio. Agents, producers and magazine editors (such as Playboy) search through MySpace to find new talent for free.

The Future of Scribd

I think that the site is going to be the next best thing because others found and will continue to find other uses for the site (ex: YouTube and MySpace). For example, the current economy is causing businesses to rethink how to spend their dollars. To help save money, recruiters are using Scribd to search for resumes for free, rather than pay fees to the mainstream job boards. I can also see publishers beginning to use Scribd to publish e-books for their company rather than publish the e-books on their own web servers.

Additional Sources:
The Killimanjaro Corporation v. et al. Retrieved 08 November 2008.
Wikipedia. Scribd. Retrieved 08 November 2008.
Gilbertson, Scott. iPaper: a Simple Way to View and Share Documents on the Web. WebMonkey. 20 February 2008. Retrieved 08 November 2008.

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