|In the past when Scribd has come up on Hacker News, a handful of HN readers made no secret of the fact that they saw the Scribd product as flawed. While the harsh feedback was painful at times, it was important for us to hear.|
We are sincerely grateful for the advice and criticism that we got from the very smart people on HN. The conversations we have had with people here were instrumental in our understanding what was bothering people about Scribd, and how to fix it.
Today we're launching the largest product change ever on Scribd, and one that goes directly to the heart of those concerns. We are leaving Flash and moving to all HTML5.
The #1 problem people had with Scribd was the Flash reading experience. Scrolling was problematic, you said. It didn't respect your browser's search, text selection, or keyboard shortcuts. It didn't feel like your PDF reader, either, and it was missing functionality you expected in a document reader. Sometimes it slowed down or crashed your browser.
At a higher level, people challenged why we were using Flash to display documents in the first place. A lot of you suggested we build a Google books style viewer, using AJAX and images.
We ended up taking that suggestion, but we took it a step further. Rather than building yet another reading application based on images, we used the magic new stuff in HTML5 to convert documents into fully native webpages. It took us a while because we built this from scratch, and it was hard to do.
The result is that the reading experience on Scribd is now incredibly light and fast. It's no different, really, from reading a blog, since it's all in plain HTML yet it still preserves the exact complex and rich formatting of the original document. While it's an early beta product, I think it is already way better. But don't take my word for it - try it yourself:
What is Scribd, anyway?
There’s been a lot of confusion among HN readers over what Scribd is supposed to do, and I want to clear it up. The point of Scribd is, most emphatically, not to replace your PDF viewer, and that’s why we encourage users to download documents in whatever format they want. If you try to think of Scribd as an Acrobat/Preview/Foxit competitor you’ll never understand it. The purpose of Scribd is two-fold:
1) For authors/publishers: to provide a place where they can publish their book, essay, presentation, magazine, legal document, poem, catalog, scientific paper, etc. to a wide audience
2) For readers: To provide a place where you will occasionally find interesting content generally not available elsewhere and make it easy to share that content with your social graph.
Scribd’s real value is in the unique content – not available elsewhere – that we have added to the web. It is that store of content and the community around it that has made Scribd popular among authors, students, business professionals, musicians, cooks, companies, publishers, and other wide-ranging types of people.
What HN made clear was that while building out that community, we could not ignore the reading experience itself. When you find an interesting document on Scribd, you expect to be able to read it in an easy, natural way. That’s what we’ve tried to build.
When we've gotten feedback from HN, it has ended up dramatically improving the product. I have every reason to expect the same will happen this time. And I think we've shown that we do pay attention to what gets written here. So, please, tell us what you think in the comments (or email me directly). Kindly keep the discussion to the reading experience itself for now – that’s what we’re really trying to improve.
What else can we do to make Scribd the best reading experience on the web? The whole team at Scribd is anxiously waiting to hear your answer.