Scribd Looks to be The YouTube of Documents

YouTube has proved to be an unqualified hit, becoming the second-most-popular site on the Internet, according to the traffic monitoring service Alexa. So what if you took the YouTube self-publishing model for video and applied it to documents?

You’d get Scribd, a startup firm that launched its iPaper publishing platform this week. Scribd lets people upload and post documents in the format they prefer, so formatting is retained.

Like Adobe’s PDF format, iPaper is for presenting documents in their original format without requiring the generating application or a far reader.

Unlike PDF, iPaper doesn’t require any reader except for your browser. That’s because the document is presented in a Flash animation.

Flash isn’t exactly known for being lightweight, but it is widely used, Jason Bentley, director of community development for Scribd, told “Flash is on 98 percent of computers in the U.S. and a significant percentage around the world. So Flash is far more ubiquitous than Adobe Reader. So we’re a little more comfortable being able to ride on Flash’s back because it’s already there,” he said.

[cob:Related_Articles]iPaper does have its limitations. Like early PDF, it’s just a presentation format. It can’t be edited or receive input like filling out a form, features that Adobe has added since its launch in 1993. Bentley said those are eventual goals for future releases.

The goal is to enable more professional-looking self-published documents.

“For years, technology has been so prohibitive,” Bentley said. “Only certain people with certain skills were getting published, or they had to publish themselves and pay out the nose for it.

“Now, anyone with modest ability can create an electronic book that’s every inch as attractive and well-written as what’s put out by Random House,” he added. “So we want to be the one-stop shop for people who want to publish themselves.”

The Scribd document library, launched in March 2007, is up to 1.5 million documents covering a wide range of topics.

To protect against copyright violations—a constant headache for YouTube and its parent company Google—Scribd has created an offline database, not accessible by users, for copyright owners. They can add their content to it, and when a new document comes into the Scribd database, it’s compared against the black list, so violators do not get posted.

The same technology used to publish documents on the Scribd home page is also available for third parties who wish to publish documents in iPaper format on their site. All of that can be licensed from Scribd. Documents can then be embedded in a Web page the same way that YouTube videos are being embedded in Web pages now with just some HTML code.

Scribd’s Quickswitch tool allows users to convert large numbers of documents in mass to iPaper. Scribd supports the following formats: PDF, PostScript, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OpenOffice text document, OpenOffice Presentation document, OpenOffice Spreadsheet, all OpenDocument formats, plain text and rich text format (.rtf).

Even with the availability of PDF and widespread use of HTML, Bentley said there’s still plenty of need for iPaper.

“I certainly couldn’t have anticipated there wasn’t this much of a problem to be solve when it came to sharing documents,” he said. “There are certain layouts and formats that can’t be handled by HTML, and they don’t have the ability to code a Flash portfolio. But they can put together a nice Word document and put that on their Website embedded through iPaper. That’s easy to do.”

The tricky part is monetizing it.

The company, which was founded in 2006 and is currently getting by on first-round funding, has begun to embed adSense ads into iPaper documents—but in an unobtrusive way. That’s just one of the ideas being considered, Bentley said.

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