Scribd – Doing For Documents What Slideshare Does For Presentations

As I’ve recently described, a couple of months ago I uploaded PDFs of a few of my papers to Slideshare, and wondered whether there was a business opportunity for Slideshare in extending its remit from providing a repository of slideshows to include documents in general.

Well last week I came across Scribd – a Web 2.0 service which provides this functionality, describing itself as “YouTube for documents”. I registered for the service (although, strangely, you don’t need to be registered to upload documents) and uploaded several of my papers. And I have to admit that I’m very impressed with the service. I could upload my papers in several formats (including MS Word, PDF, MS PowerPoint and MS Excel) and, when I uploaded an MS Word document, alternative formats were created, including PDF, HTML, plain text and even an MP3 file which provided a computer-generated sound file for the paper! As well as the accessibility benefits which this may provide, being able to download various formats means that the service cannot be accusing of ‘fake sharing’ – a term coined on the lessig blog and discussed on the O’Reilly Radar and eFoundations blogs.

Scribd Interface

The interface seemed very usable; as well as allowing the paper to be viewed in a variety of formats Scribd, as seems to be the norm for these type of services, allows resources to be bookmarked (‘favourited’ seems to be the word used to describe this), usage statistics are provided and, as with Slideshare, the resource can be embedded in Web pages.

Has Scribd raised the bar in users’ expectations for digital repositories? In some respects, I feel it has. However there are concerns which need to be recognised:

  • Poor quality resources which are hosted: there is no guarantee of the quality of the resources which are hosted on Scribd. And there are copyrighted publications (including those from O’Reilly) which have already been uploaded.
  • Sustainability of the service: As will all of these type of services, there is the question as to whether such services are sustainable. Techcrunch reported on 6 March 2007 that the service “is coming out of private beta this morning with a fresh Angel investment of $300K on top of their original Y Combinator nest egg of $12,000.“This may keep the service running for a short time, but will it be around in the medium to long term? And what will happen if copyright holders, such as O’Reilly, take the service to court for their misuse of their copyrighted resources (as Viacomm have recently done to YouTube).
  • Lack of a interoperable resource discovery architecture: The approach taken by Scribd is not interoperable with the approach being taken by the JISC development community, which is looking to support the development of distributed interoperable digital repository services which make use of OAI-PMH.

So perhaps Scribd might be felt to have no relevance to those involved in digital repository development work. I, however, feel that it would be a mistake to dismiss Scribd. We can’t guarantee that the service would have a role to play in the long term, but the approaches it has taken are worth exploring. Indeed, as I commented on some time ago in a posting about the accessibility of PDF resources in digital repositories) I feel that we should be exploring ways of improving the accessibility of repository services, and it is interesting that this commercial service, rather than one developed with the academic community, is taking a leading role in providing MP3 versions of papers in the repository.

And rather than just trying out Scribd to see what features might be worth implementing in our own repository services, is there an argument for making a deal with Scribd to host our scholarly resources in a managed fashion?

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