Scribd & Slideshare: Cool Factor But Usability Flawed

The first time I saw Scribd, there certainly seemed to be a cool factor in embedding a PDF in a viewer in a web page, much like placing a YouTube video on my site.

But more recently, I've come to realize how the use of Scribd and SlideShare may be more of a usability nuisance than it is worth. For instance, a few weeks ago, I was viewing the C&W Program (Final) program prior to the conference, and decided to download a copy for viewing offline on my netbook. First, I tried the download link at the top of the Scribd viewer frame, which took me here. Logging in seems a pain, so I used the Computers and Writing 2010 Program link (above the Scribd version of the document), which took me to another view of the document at the Scribd website. It was counter intuitive to do so (one would expect the same behavior), but I tried the download link there and it worked: downloading without logging in.

Then last night, I was trying to download a copy of a Slideshare document embedded in a web page. Turns out the only way to download that document was by registering on SlideShare's website. Of course, SlideShare's registration was down. (BTW: The irony here is that this was a report about open education resources that used a very "non-open" sharing process.)

The obvious response could be "Why not just read them in the browser using SlideShare/Scribd's viewer?" There are a lot of reasons why not:

  • User choice. On one of my systems, I use Adobe Acrobat; another computer, FoxIT Reader (good for netbooks). Like choice of browser, it seems reasonable that choice of document viewer should be up to the user since Internet users typically have a PDF viewer, work processor, etc., to use when viewing documents on the web.
  • I'm more comfortable using the features in my PDF viewer of choice. Using these embedded viewers thus inhibits my reading experience.
  • Why so many clicks to download a PDF?
  • As a scholar, I often like to save PDF's for later reading. Sometimes, I like to annotate them with Adobe Acrobat.
  • It seems a bad idea to depend on two websites to serve a document which could just be uploaded and made available as a link. That's double the chance for the document to be unavailable due to a technology problem (case in point: SlideShare's registration service being down).

So suggestion to authors: when possible, improve the user experience by providing a direct link to download PDFs, .doc files, ppt, etc., when using these embedded document viewing services. Or, don't use them at all. They may look cool, but not so cool to use.


I had a similar experience, Charlie. Scribd sounds great on paper (hehe), but in practice just seemed to be a bit clumsy. My typical habit with PDFs is to first open them in Firefox, then save them to my hard drive and few them in Acrobat (if it's something worth watching).

I remember a few years ago when trying to open any PDF was likely to crash my Firefox. I'm glad they at least got that worked out.

Check out Barton's gaming blog at Armchair Arcade.