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Go Paperless in 2013 (paperless2013.org)
45 points by mazsa on Jan 1, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 58 comments

Not joining.

I like paper, and I don't care if some think it is wasteful.

I like reading without a screen.

I like the feel in my hands.

It does not require batteries or electricity.

I can doodle and jot in the margins.

It spreads out on my work table as a kind of personal caching system.

It degrades gracefully, unlike a most digital file formats.

I would encourage anyone interested to find a copy of "The Myth of the Paperless office" by Abagail Sellen and Richard Harper [1] (No affiliate link below)

[1] - http://www.amazon.com/Myth-Paperless-Office-Abigail-Sellen/d...

I don't think going paperless is for everyone, and I even agree that paper just feels better.

That said, I'm personally transitioning to mostly paperless for purely pragmatic reasons. I can't keep my papers organized, and I no longer want to be bothered to constantly store and move them. It doesn't help that I save a bunch of papers "just in case" that I end up never needing again.

I think I would be better off with a scanner and digital backups for everything. If I really need the information in paper format, I can just print it on-demand and not have drawers, folders, or bins lying around. Getting rid of all my old papers even has the added benefit of making every paper I do have that much more recent and important, which will (hopefully) lead to it being dealt with more promptly and efficiently rather than getting lost in some pile on my desk.

That said, I'm certainly not joining this. I'll reconsider when my plan eventually blows up in my face.

Your point about degrading gracefully is very important. Even with leading electronic record systems, paper will continue to be heavily used for producing backups, permanent copies, changelogs, etc. For example, a large regional hospital network with a state-of-the-art electronic patient record system generates a lengthy paper backup for each change made to the e-record. The system produces ~100,000 pages a month for just patient record changes. And this is considered an "all digital" system. Hmm.

What appears to be happening is a fusion of both paper and digital as a best practice. Important information is recorded digitally because it is fast and convenient, and also recorded in analogue, on paper, to leave a legal trail and backup for when the electronic systems go down (and they do go down).

(disclosure: I'm a cofounder of GetDimples.com, maker of ink-saving software and fonts.)

I'm with you. I've got all this technology around so usually about twice a year I feel the need to take advantage of all these smart devices and go paperless. Each time, I eventually end up back at paper.

To me, paper is frictionless. I can focus on capturing my thoughts without getting distracted or sidetracked. When reading from paper, I can write in the margin. When I've got a lot of thoughts, I flip over the page and write or draw on the back. It's great.

I've got a stack of scrap paper (old one-sided print outs) that I use, so I feel less guilt about the 'waste'.

I can't solve a hard problem without paper. Writing words, drawing lines, making physical connections makes the ideas flow for me.

>I like paper, and I don't care if some think it is wasteful.

It isn't wasteful though. Paper is a renewable resource and is mostly biodegradable. Forest growth in the U.S. increases every year due to people using wood for things.

It is good.

Is this just a thinly veiled advertisement for HelloFax?

Whois information for paperless2013.org:

  Admin Name:Neal OMara
  Admin Organization:HelloFax
  Admin City:San Francisco
  Admin State/Province:CA
  Admin Postal Code:94109
  Admin Country:US
  Admin Email:founders@hellofax.com

We're making no secret that we're driving this.


We're also proud that while this was originally our idea, we've found great partners who agree this is a worthwhile cause: Google, Fujitsu, Manilla, Expensify and Xero

Why? To save trees/paper? Or to save the planet?

Where is the evidence to help me decide whether this pledge is worthwhile?

Is paper production a major polluter, and does it impact deforestation (I remember reading somewhere a while back that a lot of paper comes from managed woodland)?

If I replace my paper with these services (assuming a lot of others do too) am I contributing a meaningful carbon footprint?

I'm not saying this is a bad pledge, or one I won't take. But it seems to assume very readily that we agree using the internet instead of paper is a GOOD THING, without backing it up...

> Why? To save trees/paper? Or to save the planet?

For me a major driving factor to digitization of "paperwork" is searchability. I don't know about you, but if I want to find some relevant hard copy that I don't know where it is exactly, it requires a non-insignificant amount of time to find. I have started scanning and OCR'ing things, in an attempt to make that process much quicker/easier.

I'm Brazilian, I live a few miles from an area (Mata Atlântica) where most of the original rain forest was destroyed to grow european pineapples (it's better for paper because it grows faster, the native trees take literally centuries to grow). This is what you read about as "managed woodland". Much of the fauna and flora that existed here a few decades ago are now only found in books or zoos.

I can see the evidence to help me decide by literally looking at the window.

That's actually interesting on a wider note: are those FSC woodland?

There's a multitude of negative effects on the water and air supply in paper production in addition to the adverse effects of removing trees from the ecosystem.


True, but to determine a net benefit wouldn't we need the environmental impact of server farms to compare against? Server production/recycling/disposal isn't that environmentally friendly either, although it does happen on longer cycles than for the typical paper document.

That said, the cloud version of digitizing is probably among the better cases, because you can aggregate even low-usage users. Home electronics like ebooks readers are probably a better skeptical case: my guess is that the disposal cycle for ebook readers is fast enough to negate the environmental benefits of less ink/paper use.

Ebooks are usually used to read books, and their physical versions require way more than ink and paper. Shipping alone has a big environmental footprint: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_shippi...

That all makes sense. To be honest, my innate feeling so far is that servers > paper. But this happened to spark the question in me; is this actually true?

Thanks both for the info!

It's hard to be sure, are trees for paper simply a crop that takes a long time to grow. My understanding is that the majority of trees used are conifers, so if these trees are not required for paper what else would be planted in their place? Is there any reason to believe that land would be left planted with trees if there was no money to be made by selling them. What other use would the land be put to by its owners?

Joseph here, cofounder of HelloSign.

The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper a year. Multiply that by the working population and that's an enormous footprint. The unfortunate part is that using that much paper is completely unnecessary, as there are services that make paper use obsolete.

The problem with people going paperless isn't the technology, but the awareness that the technology exists. That's why we teamed up with Gogole Drive, Fujitsu, Expensify and others - to help people stop using paper for good.

You failed to provide the proof he asked for though. What he means is, assuming a majority of the paper production comes from managed woodland, making the destruction of habitats and so on a mute argument, how does that compare to having datacenters being built everywhere, and what is better?

The premise that paper requires less servers is odd, in my opinion. Documents come from servers anyway, the main difference is whether they go to your printer or your screen.

What's your source for saying that the average office worker uses 10k pages a year (~40 every working day)?

That's hardly a meaningful source. Junk numbers have often been posted all over the place, but that does not mean there credible.

10,000 / ~ 250 work days a year = 40 pages a day. That seems really excessive even if your counting books. For example, I have not printed anything in over a year, so while there are some books and papers people give me it's no where near 40 pages a day.

That figure was what actually sparked this thought in me - because that's a meaningless statistic without something showing this is a worse impact than using all digital :)

The parent asked why he should go paperless, not what technologies would enable him to do so. What makes it a worthwhile thing to do ?

Hmmmm... So, even if it was all managed woodland, someone still needs to fire up the chainsaws, put the trees on an 18-wheeler, convert it to something usable at another factory, put it on another truck that delivers it to another location, etc...

There are 7 billion people on the planet, heading for 9 billion by 2050. In general, we should consider how we all impact the planet in aggregate.

You could break servers down that way too; each new server has a footprint in terms of the energy it uses, and the carbon footprint in creating and transporting it.

If 10,000 people take this pledge, and take it seriously, does that materially have a cost too?

Thought experiment.

Paper no longer uses trees. Its clay and chemicals. Ever since the home office printer got popular, trees were hopelessly too few to fill the need.

'Save money.' is the first reason on the page...

I don't think it's a good idea to go paperless unless you can avoid dependence on services over which you have no control. These things have to be self-hostable.

"e-signatures" are still a touchy subject in business. What can we do to help make them more acceptable and widespread? Is there any precedent that they are equal to a paper signature?

Joseph here, cofounder of HelloSign. e-Signatures are legally binding. It's more of a cultural attachment that keeps us using "wet signatures". Check out our legal page for more details: http://www.hellosign.com/info/legal

In terms of making it more widespread, it takes some work.

The way we're doing it is by combining e-signatures with other services and doing user education and cross pollination between the services. Our other product is HelloFax, which lets you send and receive faxes online.

But, I think we're getting closer to an inflection point as society is starting to use e-signatures more and more.

"Additionally, we encrypt all of your statically-stored user files and signature information in Amazon’s S3 servers"

Why wouldn't you host those yourself? Aren't there concerns and operational risks involved when using Amazon?

It's difficult to weigh costs once you're at a static scale, but while bandwidth and storage is growing, cloud services tend to offer substantial savings. In this case, the cost benefits for S3 compared to owning your own servers are tremendous.

There are always concerns and risks involved with hosting personal data, but it's not fundamentally different based on cloud hosting compared to colocation (or even managing hardware at your own location). There's mild complexity because 3rd parties are involved, but this is quickly becoming the norm.

Amazon S3 is highly secure when configured correctly. The files are encrypted and only our servers can access them from our S3 buckets (i.e. no direct links). For more information on Amazon's security practices, see here: http://aws.amazon.com/security/

- Neal, co-founder of HelloFax

S3 is one of Amazon's most stable cloud offerings. It's been years since they had a major outage. It's possibly even more stable than hosting yourself.

Just as we carry out hand everywhere so that we can sign papers easily, each one of us should have a token or something equivalent that is based on PKI. And then native OS drivers to add functionality to sign any file with it. Something like "Right-click" -> "Sign" for the signer, and then he either inserts the token (preferably a USB) and a biometric/password or swipes it on an NFC surface. And thus, the document is signed.

Even with native OS drivers, I don't think there's a way to implement this for authentication without the help of an online "profile", which I personally hate because it tends to centralization of data, which in this case is NOT a good idea.

Mostly they just need to accurately reproduce the signature.

Machine signatures are good enough to make a law. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autopen

For the first time I've recently been seriously considering going paperless at home.

However, every great solution involves uploading my scans to online services.

This is something I'm not comfortable doing with my sensitive data (i.e. tax records).

Has anyone found or developed tools that can be run locally to organize my files? Something like evernote? I'd like to just scan and shred, and not have to fuss too much with naming files, manually organizing files, etc. A good pdf search interface is a must.

Kind of makes me wish that we had a sort of local server appliance that was zero administration but provided a safe place for all of our documents at "home".

Devonthink Pro Office works for me. Local storage, one-touch scanning and OCR, and it learns where to file documents really well so usually it's a one click to get a PDF into the right folder.

I whish I could go paperless. I'm in high school, and let's admit it: my notebooks are a complete mess, and it's kind of annoying.

We get free netbooks in school, that we carry every day, and I though "Great, this year I'll take notes with the notebook and store them in the cloud".

But... nope, teachers don't allow you to do that, mainly because they think you are in Facebook (Duh, we don't even have internet!).

Seriously, my life would be much easier.

I will not go paperless at least not for now, because I do not see how paper production is more polluting compared to server farms which use ton of electricity which has to be generated somehow and we still generate ton of electricity from some other color sources than green. Paper then again is easily recycled and more we recycle it the less we waste wood.

Then there is the business side of this. If average office worker prints 10,000 sheets of paper per year the paper would cost about 100 euros per year. The black laser casettes would cost about 400 euros per year. This comes down to 500 euros per year and this supports workers working in the ink and paper industry. If I really need that much paper I can always pay the price of it. When going completely paperless would put the cash on the hands of few founders and server administrators and would require those who I am in contact with to use the same or compatible services.

Server farms are still used to get the document to the printer.

In the grand scheme of things, going paperless is not really a significant tactic to mitigate climate change or other environmental impacts. The paper industry has one of the best environmental track records and paper is one of the only truly sustainable products in existence.

In contrast, computers, data centers, mobile phones, and communication networks are well on their way to becoming one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions on the planet. Heavy metals, lead, and other hazardous materials are also frequently present in electronic products.

Paper itself is one of the most recycled products. Its production often lends itself to easy use of renewable energy sources (like hydro power) and proper forest management provides a sustainable source of raw materials as well as a carbon-sink [1].

[1] http://www.paperbecause.com/paper-is-sustainable/paper-truth...

Special-case counterpoint: Insisting on getting paper bills from your cell phone service provider can make it easier to detect unauthorized third-party "cramming" charges. Being able to review the details of your bill when you open your mail can be useful if, like me, you're the sort who doesn't always keep up with the on-line version. I just switched back to paper billing for that reason; see http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4994127.

"Posted by Meredith Blackwell, Product __Marketing__ Manager"...

... and your point is? This is exactly the sort of activity I'd expect a marketing manager to be involved with. "Marketing" isn't a dirty word.

I hope it's more than just ads from their partners.

I can't recommend Doxie portable scanners enough. The centrepiece of my paperless workflow.

Thanks for this - I've been contemplating something similar for a while.

Out of curiosity:

A) Which model do you recommend / use?

B) How does it perform for scanning ~40 page documents in? I've been thinking about looking at a auto-feed scanner but curious about how this might perform instead...

I have the original Doxie (http://www.getdoxie.com/product/doxie/index.html). I haven't tried their newer models.

I use it mainly for 1-5 page documents and it works great except if the document is printed on really poor paper or the lead edge is crumpled. You do occasionally have to re-scan a page if it doesn't feed properly or gets rotated halfway through feeding.

If you are scanning 40 page documents and can afford the extra space you might want to consider a scanner with an auto-feed as your rescan rate may be higher than mine! The software is relatively easy to use and allows you to re-order pages, etc.

How do they compare to the fujitsu snapscans? I have a little s1100 and it works "ok". Doxie's wifi support seems like it would be an awesome feature.

Not sure.

Sure, sure, I'd love to go paperless too; just a few little details:

1) No, I will not store it on your server.

2) No, I will not run Windows or OSX to run your software.

3) I'd really like the source code.

Get back to me when you've solved those problems.

Not for me.

I like paper. I like pens. I like to get away from my computer and phone. I like to scribble, sketch, doodle, draw and take time to discover thoughts.

Paper will always be in my toolbox.

Don't forget your passwords.

In all seriousness, though, I wonder about how people store their personal documents. What is everyone's favorite search utility for their desktop?

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