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Scribd and Quora considered harmful (somebits.com)
511 points by ctoth on May 25, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 136 comments

I want to highlight one part of my blog post no one's picked up on: "some engineer actually wrote code to deliberately break document sharing on the web." Think of all the things an engineer can do with the skill to program computers, to make amazing things on the Internet. And he or she spends that time developing new ways to make it hard to read text on a web page. Ugh.

Frankly making fun of Quora and Scribd is like shooting fish in a barrel, but sometimes it's helpful to articulate the obvious.

You say our motivation is "to force users to pay or share advertising data or some such bullshit". Actually, we don't charge users anything, and we don't run ads or sell user data or anything like that. We only try to get users to sign up because they have a better experience when they do and in the long term they write more answers and more knowledge gets shared that way.

You may not want to sign up yourself, or you may disagree with this tradeoff on principle, which is fine, but I want people to understand the motivation. We just want to increase the total amount of knowledge shared. In the short term requiring signups means some people don’t join. But a lot of people do join and start to use Quora regularly, a lot more than if there was no requirement, and those people end up contributing so many more answers that we judge this to be the right decision for the long term.

In fact, at this point, most of the answers written every day would not exist if we had not had the signup requirement. I realize that this choice makes the product worse for people who refuse to join. But in the counterfactual world Quora is a product with much less coverage of any topic, and that is a much lower quality experience for users. We are trading off a little annoyance at first for a much better experience and the ability to access a vastly larger base of content in the long term.

Thanks for the thoughtful response, I'll link it in my blog post. My apologies for mischaracterizing Quora as running ads. http://www.quora.com/Quoras-Business-Model-and-Monetization/...

How is someone who builds software to sell digital goods any different? They deliberately put a border in between the user and the content (music, ebooks, software, etc.) I don't see many people complaining about that.

You don't see many people hating DRMs?

Anyway, the point you were answering to specifically mentioned "make it hard to read text on a web page". "music, ebook, software" aren't web pages, it's not the same end goal (the browser displaying stuff on your screen).

Quora is dangerously close to being a nuisance with all the pointless emails they send. I think I browsed the site a half dozen times max, and contributed to two-three questions. Now I get daily emails about distant friends activity on Quora. LinkedIn this the only site I've been tricked into joining that is worse with their spammy emails.

Quora's principle crime is breaking the sharing nature of the Web and polluting search engine results with inaccessible content. Pretty much precisely what Scribd does.

I get "things you might be interested" emails from Quora all the time. The thing is, they usually are interesting questions/answers (probably helped by all the things I have clicked on in the past)

I used to only get those once a week but now it has come to about once every two days. Good thing I don't actively monitor my "all mail". Lately, I use the search feature in my gmail quite often. People will hunt me down (in person or by phone etc) and ask me about the email they sent me. Then, I go into my gmail and find the email in question.

You can turn off these emails though, surely? At least, you can with linkedin, as I have. I am not a quora user, so I can't talk there.

That said, I usually go with the email-alias trick. Not all websites like emails with a + in their name, so I have a postmap file on my server to map service@domain to my real address. If I want rid of that sites email because they won't respect my unsubscribes, I just remove that alias.

I've also heard of people using the likes of maildrop to /dev/null email they don't want. I have maildrop set up, but no rules in force to delete stuff, just to move.

Yes, you can turn off those emails. All you have to do is un-click 25 checkboxes! http://cl.ly/image/3J2Q3o1M213h/quora-email-settings.png

Holy shit, I thought you were kidding. I am glad you included the screenshot!

For lack of better words, Quora has always struck me as expertsexchange 2.0. There is nothing wrong with being the reincarnate-2.0.-site, but Quora seems to be resurrecting demons and zombies and death we'd rather stay in the ground.

(For comparison, I consider Reddit, with its thousands of subreddits to be a form of usenet 2.0)

Don't forget you'll have to re-un-click them every time they add another point to the list!

Just to hold off on the Quora bashing for a few seconds - I've used Quora since 2011, and they actually have not ever added a new email item defaulting to on (for me at least, maybe I'm in some grandfathered category.)

They've done heaps of annoying shit, but that in particular is one of the few things they haven't done.

Or click the unsubscribe all link at the bottom of every single email they send.

Is this legal after the can spam act??

Every email they send includes a link to unsubscribe from all emails in one click.

All I did was sign up so I could read some answers. Over the next week I was bombarded with emails. I checked the settings and when I registered they had signed me up to be emailed about a dozen different things.

It's almost as bad as LinkedIn. After I turned off all newsletters from LinkedIn, I still got 2 a week that I had to filter in Gmail.

There is a clear one-click unsubscribe link at the bottom of every single email we send, and there always has been. It says: "To disable all email from Quora, visit the following link: Unsubscribe."

I never get daily emails, but regardless, they provide fine-grained control over unsubscribing to these emails. If you receive them daily, you might want to take 5 minutes and opt out.

> you might want to take 5 minutes

If an opt-out takes more than ten seconds (find opt-out, click it, close tab, alt+tab back to email) I add it to my spamfilter. And that means I will never read email from that sender again, not even in my spam folder, unless I am expecting e-mail and (temporarily) remove it from my blacklist.

Stealing five minutes of the lives of each of thousands or millions of people is why spammers are scum.

While I usually find the businesses funded by Y Combinator awesome I think Scribd is a bad apple. Not only is the user experience terrible it also has the smell of a bad neighborhood with all the pirated content it offers.

Today I incidentally read the current (March 2014) "Gutenberg 3.5 - Ebook Piracy Report"[1]. It seems to be from an anti-piracy lobbying group, so its obviously biased, but it mentions Scribd even before Library Genesis.

That being said: Scribd seems to be (or has been?) one of the most successful Y Combinator companies[2] and is sometimes called "YouTube of documents"[3].

   [1] http://www.abuse-search.com/Gutenberg%2035h.pdf
   [2] https://www.google.com/#q=scribd+ycombinator
   [3] https://www.google.com/#q=youtube+of+documents

This is somewhat off topic, but I've always thought of Library Genesis as a modern-day Library of Alexandria. Both contain vast stores of priceless knowledge, and both employ(ed) somewhat less than optimal means of obtaining their books.

I wonder if the individuals who wrote that report can see the similarities too. It's going to be a sad day if they manage to raze LibGen as well.

Interesting insight. I've only recently found LibGen, and it's simply amazing for conducting research.

I expect it will be attacked, possibly successfully, but other alternatives will rise to take its place.

More like the Dailymotion or the Vimeo, but I see what you mean.

I wonder if you could add a condition to a document's license, CC or whatever, forbidding it being hosted behind any kind of pay- or signup-wall?

The GNU GPL generally requires works be provided in the "preferred form" for making modifications. That might well be a hack around Scribd's methods.

When you take an investor's money and lack the ability to generate revenue, you're forced to use shady 'growth hacking' techniques in order to fake hockey stick metrics for the purpose of finding additional investors ad infinitum.

Well, you keep doing this until you get 'acquired.'

Yeah, I think Quora only makes sense if they are bought and a piece of it is implemented within one of the giants like Google. It's an interesting new business model I guess.

Yahoo Answers is already scary enough.

oh yes it is. example:

"Can anyone tell me if Optoma is the best brand making projectors?"

Best Answer Selected by Voters: "Nigga, I saw in a previous question that you havin a baby. what the fuck you spending money fo bitch, save that shit"

I couldn't agree more. I have long though Scribd was toxic and a terrible idea in an age where browsers render PDFs flawlessly and that was before I knew of the find issues and DRM font. I have avoided Scribd links like the plague as every time I have accidentally go to their website I have found navigating (scrolling) the PDF to be nearly unusable and I despise how small the view port is. To be honest I have no clue what other content surrounds the document which I attribute in part to "Ad blindness" and I won't be checking now because I don't want to give them the page view.

As for Quora it is Experts Exchange 2.0. Hiding community sourced knowledge behind a login is shameful and disgusting. Especially since, if memory serves, they started out allowing you to see all the content then later added the blurring and popup. Thankfully I didn't pay much attention to Quora prior to this change and so I don't have any knowledge of mine locked up in. If I had I would delete my responses and repost the question and my answer to the appropriate Stack Exchange site.

I'm on mobile right now but once back at my computer I plan on adding both of these sites to my hosts file as I refuse to be an accomplice to or support their shady practices.

Thank you for highlighting what I have long thought about Quora and fully opening my eyes to the sins of Scribd which I have long disliked but lacked the interest to fully investigate.

Scribd seems unambiguously terrible (DRM fonts? That's a whole new level of garbage), but I find it really hard to say the same about Quora unless you're confirmation-bias-ing your way to portray them in a bad light.

So i've got this website. You have to log in to post things there. Other people have to log in to see the things you post there.

Someone please explain to me again how this arrangement is evil? Seems pretty straightforward and fair to me.

Spam emails? http://gyazo.com/f4752783f03276b654dd3f7044cb6766

Seems to me like they give you pretty comprehensive settings on what you can turn on and turn off. And it's not like this screen was hard to find. It's in an "Email preferences" link on the same general settings page you set your password on.

Quota is evil (your word, not mine) because they make it seem, though eg Google, that you can access the information immediately. Further, they are breaking the norms of Q&A sites that viewing information doesn't require more than passing interaction with the site (a norm many people who provide Q&A content tend to agree with). Finally, it brings back strong memories (as mentioned in TFA) of Experts Exchange, which was uniformly hated.

Spamming is just an extra incentive to dislike them.

So they do something slightly different from Stack* and they're "considered harmful"?

The screenshot I linked should be enough to immediately disprove any accusations of "spam".

> The screenshot I linked should be enough to immediately disprove any accusations of "spam".

Really? You have to uncheck something like 20 checkboxes to avoid spam. And they used to have a tendency to re-enable all of them each time they add a new option; so you had to repeat the process on and off. (Hopefully that last bit has tapered down)

Your spam is someone else's notification from a service they use.

Can we stop torturing the definition of words, please? Spam is unsolicited commercial email. A service you registered for emailing you when one of your questions is answered or commented on, or a digest of interesting questions from the week, and so on is not spam by any possible definition.

Now, where have I seen that behavior before? Is this spam too, by your definition?


And here's the control UI


This is something I wish i could do over on Stack* - I'd love to be emailed when a question is answered or commented on. But alas, I have a newsletter, and a single checkbox that turns a bunch of stuff on and off. But you don't earn hate on hacker news for having too few features, apparently you earn it by having too many?

The worst thing you can accuse Quora of is being very, very granular as to what you can turn on and off... Hence why I call it confirmation bias. People have been told the site is crap and so go looking for reasons to confirm it.

Behold! The email settings UI is over-engineered! Let's imply a huge amount of mustache-twirling negativity into their motivations for doing so! The horror! They send an email once a week with interesting questions! It must be spam! Nevermind the fact that Stack* does the exact same thing!

All of this Quora hate is really, really unjustified for the simple difference of having a registration requirement to view their content.

> The worst thing you can accuse Quora of is being very, very granular as to what you can turn on and off

I just don't see how having a good granularity is incompatible with having an easy way to turn the whole thing off. Neither do I see a point in having the settings revert back once in a while.

> Hence why I call it confirmation bias. People have been told the site is crap and so go looking for reasons to confirm it.

> All of this Quora hate is really, really unjustified for the simple difference of having a registration requirement to view their content

You seem to have strong opinions about why other people's dislike of Quora is unjustified. But this amounts to just putting words in people's mouth.

A service emailing me anything I did not explicitly ask it to is sending me spam - unsolicited commercial email - by your own definition. Just because you find the spam useful doesn't mean it isn't spam.

By that definition, Stack Overflow's weekly email is "spam". You signed up for it the same way you signed up for Quora.

The key difference is that on SO we don't make you give us your email address to read an answer. So when you "sign up" for the newsletter, you're explicitly signing up for email (in fact, you can do so without even bothering to create an account).

Not saying SO doesn't send too many emails to registered users in other scenarios (it's something we argue about internally fairly often).

And to be fair, both sites put "unsubscribe" links in the footer of every email, so it really shouldn't be that much of a burden.

Yes. Most mail from corporations at this point is spam. That is completely true.

Your definition is so broad as to be utterly meaningless.

The screenshot you link seems to me indicative of a dark pattern:

User unsubscribes from all categories (one-by-one-by-one) = invent a new category and auto-subscribe the user.

>Someone please explain to me again how this arrangement is evil?

Well, if they let you know ahead of time that you needed to sign up to access the content, that'd be no big deal. And, of course, I wouldn't bother to ever visit the site.

Instead, through Google, they make it appear like the information is accessible, then nag you to sign up to see it.

From the article and the look of this thread, it appears quite a few people think that it's a crappy way to do business; so who is "biased"?

I had the impression that Google penalizes websites for giving its crawler substantially different information than a visitor would receive, and that it has done so for quite some time. I wonder why Quora is not penalized in to irrelevance.

Because they abuse rel=canonical instead of outright showing different content. See https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6301280.

Because what they serve to Google is the same, the first answer. The issue is that people want more than the first answer or they don't know how to dismiss the sign up modal.

More than anything, people who have issues with this feel entitled to have unfettered access to content because Wikipedia and other sites have been world changing and useful resources without a barrier to entry for reading content.

There was a time when using an anonymous remailer was considered bad taste, but now an email address isn't sacred, things change a lot on the internet over time and it has more to do with how the general public uses it and perceives it than to do with how highly technical people think it ought to be.

Scribd is a nightmare to use on a mobile device as well. I can't count the times I've open an article on my phone and wanted to view the linked PDF, only to get a brand new web page whose text is too small to read, can't be resized, and zoom buttons are unclickable because they overlap. Oftentimes there's a tiny "download PDF" link located in a the upper right corner which is incredibly difficult to press; after repeatedly attempting to press it for an inordinate amount of time, I can usually finally load it into a native PDF viewer.

In short, just supply a PDF link.

I think my continued use of these sites rigged with all dark patterns are just a nod of acceptance. Deleted Quora app from phone long ago and logged out. It's probably time I delete my account.

Update: Oh well. There's no delete feature implemented. You have to email Quora support.


I signed up, spent a day on it where it would keep trying to force me to select categories to subscribe to, and then I could not delete it. Sent them an email, never heard back.

they do delete your account after this though... so its worth it.

Only after several requests and several months.

It took Quora support several weeks to delete my account, and only after repeated requests.

I tried using their "find" function (as it hijacks command+f) today in Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. It didn't work in any of them.

I wondered why Safari's own find wasn't working on the embedded pdf, but I guess that's because of their DRM font hack.

Icing on the cake was a tall ad that took over the browser window with a video when hovered over that was positioned tight to the right side of the page, completely blocking my ability to click and drag the scrollbar.

No more clicking on Scribd links.

Wow, I had no idea about the font on scribd. That's outright asshole.

It is quite puzzling that YC invests in and promotes companies that implement essentially DRM for documents and DRM for Q&A, with all the evil techniques that DRM requires and incites.

It appears that the movie and music industry are considered harmful, but imitating them in other domains is wonderful.

Both sites just feel wrong. Not only is there an impedance mismatch in how they operate, there is a cognitive mismatch. Manipulative walled gardens which add negative value. Internet fast food.

I hate pay-walls and even login-walls, so I genuinely disagree with Scribd's payment model. However, I do think the service provides value in that users are able to upload a PDF and it renders in a pretty widely-compatible viewer format (in HTML5). Embedding PDFs across multiple platforms are still a terrible native experience, and on some systems it launches tons of painful Acrobat toolbars or just doesn't show up at all.

I have yet to find a free or open source solution that's incredibly easy to implement and embed (for bloggers). To get PDF content showing nicely inside of a scrollable iframe, you need to convert the PDF to HTML, and host images somewhere. That's not easy for people who just want to jump right into publishing blog content. DocumentCloud seems totally awesome, but their hosted platform is restricted to journalists; specifically, "newsrooms."

I use Scribd for legal research; there's a lot of attorneys who post PDFs of case pleadings, since (a) PACER is expensive to use, and (b) RECAP has terrible searching. To that end, it really is the YouTube of PDFs, and I love it for that. Of course, YouTube is ad-supported, so perhaps that'd be a better option for Scribd, but that tends to draw ire too.

For what it's worth, you don't need to pay for a Scribd account if you regularly upload content. I haven't uploaded anything in a few months and I was able to download, for free, the Declaration of Independence link that the author highlighted. Of course, you wouldn't know that unless you stared at the little text on the bottom of the page, so that should change.

Just out of curiosity, what is it about pay-walls that you hate so much?

I don't hate them (my wallet does, when the content I want is behind them of course), but I find it to be a pretty reasonable model. Have a bite of the content, if you enjoy it then pay for the rest. It doesn't seem crazy to me that people should be compensated for their work, and while the "pay what you want" model is a lovely ideal, some people are more comfortable putting a fixed price on it.

I'm not asking to be combative, I'm genuinely curious on whether or not you have a better solution, and I'm totally open to having my opinion of pay-walls changed if I've overlooked some flaw in that model.

The paradox of paywalls is that content you have to pay for is less valuable than content you get for free. The ability to link to and from a page is a tremendous value-add in the web; a paywall breaks the chain of links. If an article is behind a paywall, I can read it, but I can't Tweet it to all my followers and expect they can read it, I can't link to it from my blog and expect all my readers to get the context... sharing is a fundamental feature for the web and paywalls break it.

There IS a case where paywalls work and work well -- if some of the value in the information is information asymmetry. This is why the Wall Street Journal works better behind a paywall than the New York Times does -- the audience for the WSJ is a bunch of people who deal in investing, where the value sometimes isn't in merely being informed but being more informed than the others.

It was already posted elsewhere in the thread, but here you go: http://pdf.yt/

Free, open-source, embeddable, ad-free, and accessible to anybody.

Disclaimer: I'm the creator of PDFy.

For avoiding using Scribd for public PDF hosting, I've been looking at http://pdf.yt/

(I keep wondering when the powers that be at HN will finally remove the Scribd autolinks on submissions, and keep being disappointed.)

Another potential option is DocumentCloud: open-source, with support from major journalistic outlets.


An example from Minar's post, the Elliot Rodger 'Twisted Life' document, has been uploaded there by a NYDailyNews reporter:


Perhaps a bit easier to read than the Scribd version, with a 'text' tab for accessing raw copyable text, and a download link for the PDF original.

>I keep wondering when the powers that be at HN will finally remove the Scribd autolinks

YC owns part of Scribd. (Scribd took part in YC S06.)

For at least a year, links to Quora and Scribd have been considered, by me, to be non-existent. Every experience with them in the preceding six months had been awful, so I refuse to interact with them again (at least, until I hear how they fixed things).

Quora is casual fun. Like Reddit with text. Ephemeral.

(I am told by Quora investors that they really didn't try for the inane comparisons to Wikipedia, but that this was made up by the press; much as the comparisons between Wikipedia and Knol were. [I am a long-time Wikipedia press volunteer and watched that last one being made up out of nothing.])

Agree completely and YC should disown (and stop linking) both sites.

I've found some use pulling content from Scribd using text-mode browsers, but even that is exceedingly painful.

My policy is to ignore both sites, and I may well simply block the domains to avoid frustrations.

I agree in the case of Scribd. Quora is not as clear-cut.

While I dislike their 'login-wall', it doesn't feel like a company focused around short-term profits.

I think their aim is noble, only that they are struggling somewhat to find ways to increase engagement and scope. Although subjective, I feel they are still on the right half of a good-insidious scale (Scribd less so).

Quora's case is very clear cut. They derive all of their value from their users, the user created content. They then put protective barriers in place to prevent access to content others created.

For example Quora's robots.txt explicitly prohibits the wayback machine from crawling anything on quora.com. The &share=1 is a hack to trick googlebot, if Googlebot were capable of indexing registration required content, Quora would probably not provide this share=1.

Quora's technology is a glorified textbox and some links that link to content. The value is all the stuff that others have added to it. Which in itself is fine, it's something companies like Yelp do and do well to everyone's benefit. But Quora's policies again and again show a complete disregard for the public and even its users:

Requiring a real name.

No way to delete answers or questions easily (you can email to have your data deleted, which I did a long time ago).

Requiring a log in to read content (I wonder if you could convince some uninformed federal prosecutor that the share=1 trick to get around the block can be used to prosecute someone with the CFAA)

Blocking the way back machine and their shitty robots.txt

Not so long ago the hiring page on Quora asked candidates to be ready to dedicate their lives to the startup, to make it the primary focus of their lives which I thought was such a horrid thing to ask of an employee and really subtext for hiring discrimination based on age.

Quora managed to get a lot of funding because of the notability of its founders. Notability derived riding Mark Zuckerberg's wake. My opinion, based on their actions, is that these founders are evil arrogant people who think little of others including their employees, their users and the general public. Their mission is not any noble cause to share information, it's aggrandizing their self-importance. And I'm so happy that Quora is a floundering ridiculous mess of near no value. I just know they'll eventually purposefully transition into a shallow content Demand Media ehow clone. Because someday they're going to have to account for all that money they took in. They'll do that, and then a Google Panda update will kill their shit and that will be the end of it.

Quora deleted my account for not providing a real name and asked me to provide a photo of my driving license as proof of who I am.

There's nothing "noble" about spamming search engines with full text results then putting up a login-wall for the same content you arrived on the page for.

Tricking random users looking for an answer that's supposedly there into registering so they can see the 1 answer is not increasing engagement, just signup counts.

How is it that Google doesn't penalize them for this? I thought it's considered a big no-no to show people something different than what you show the crawler.

We serve the same content to Google that we serve to users. We have no interest in deceiving them.

We don't care about signup counts, only about real engagement. Most people have no problem with registering, and the engagement from logged in users is so much higher that it more than offsets the small minority of people who don't want to register.

More detail at my comment here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7808698

>I think their aim is noble

That's about as fast and loose a a usage of the word noble as you can get. It's a Q&A site; what is "noble"?

I was coming around to liking Quora before the login wall. After that, I put it on my google search block list.

Scribd is one of YC's flagship companies, and rightfully so I think. People forget how painful PDF viewing used to be: the viewers were slow to load, crashed browsers a lot, and spread viruses. I remember how some forums considered linking to a pdf without adding something like [pdf] after it to be a form of abuse (more technically sophisticated forums just added that on their own).

Scribd, and things like google viewer that followed, helped get us through a rough patch until browsers started implementing better pdf viewers on their own.

Ironically, I think that links to Scribd content on HN follow the same [idiom].

There’s a trick to view everything on Quora without signin up: add ?share=1 at the end of the URL. It doesn’t remove the loginwall forever, but it’s handy.

There's a Chrome extension [0] and userscript [1] that removes the login wall and nagging.

[0]: https://github.com/sindresorhus/quora-unblocker

[1]: https://github.com/sindresorhus/quora-unblocker-userscript

That trick may be added to HN submissions in the future: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7770533

Scribd has not been going anywhere in recent years. I remember five years ago when their product was slightly innovative in that you could embed a PDF in your web page and, at the time, that was useful for me as I had some content that was PDF only and I did not want to recreate it. However, they soon added adverts and spoilt that mild utility that their service had.

I personally tend to avoid PDF files or, if a HTML version is available, I will go to that. I just don't like the format and avoid it. Sure my browser renders it fine but I avoid.

Similarly, with Scribd, I avoid. Others do to, and, in time, people will learn not to bother with Scribd. They will avoid it from both ends - uploading content and viewing content.

I believe you can just upload a PDF to a GDrive share and set it to be world viewable. Or you can restrict it. It all ties in to one's Google account, so why would you want to go to Scribd for that? Imaginably people will come to that conclusion and, before too long, Scribd will become even more irrelevant than they are now.

Google Drive, AFAIK, doesn't allow you to monetize/paywall your content, which appears to be the draw of using Scribd - not as a superior hosting/viewing platform, but as a distribution platform.

What is a good alternative to Scribd? One that allows viewers to download the source file without too much hassle and displays the text properly? Google Drive?

PDF hosted anywhere? Dropbox for instance, or github.

Dropbox is a bad option if you intend to share it with too many people; pdfs are often large enough you'll get the "This account is generating too much traffic! Try back later" pretty quickly. Dropbox is great for sharing with the family or a small email list, but not for linking to the general internet.

Dropbox doesn't expose your PDFs to search engines, so it doesn't work as a public reference dump. (Github does, I think, but it's not so easy to use - can you imagine ordinary people trying to use git to expose documents to the world?)

Aye, if I wanted to publish my pdfs, Dropbox would be a bad choice.

Sharing to a select group of people (e.g. a link in a mailing list, or on a small online community - it's perfectly valid in my opinion.

Now imagine I know very little about computers and just want to upload and share a PDF file, i.e. click "upload" and get a link--an imgur for PDFs. I don't know of a solution like that.

Again, this is why I love Dropbox - I don't even need to upload, just rightlick and get a link.

As mentioned, it's not suitable for large audiences - but it's perfect for other stuff.

Why not just use a sane PDF reader? Firefox has a reasonable one built-in.

The problem with Scribd is that it tries to reduce your cognitive load by one click. "Open or save?"

But it replaces that horrible, horrible soul-crushing "Open or save?" dilemma with its own inferior implementation.

PDFs that don't force a download open inline without asking in any browser, just like any other readable file (e.g. webpages, text files, images).

I'm very fond of the Internet Archive's book viewer: https://archive.org/details/etsi_ts_100_940_v07.08.00

It's their own project, open source, and available for (and used by) other projects: https://openlibrary.org/dev/docs/bookreader

And yes, it's absolutely fucking awesome. Better than any book reader, online or off, anywhere.

I prefer viewerjs.org - I don't believe it if people that say that every modern platform has a PDF viewer.

Having a document hosted on your own website together with a javascript viewer reduces the risk for users both in terms of privacy and security, as Acrobat Reader is a seriously problematic piece of code and all the remote code is a serious violation of trust between the user and the owner of the site.

Any modern browser has inline pdf viewing really. Scribd is from the time when the majority didn't yet. I do much prefer sites to open pdfs in a new tab, though, but not as download.

Its more geared to university/college students, but can be used for others: http://studygig.com

I really don't think there is a good answer for this that a lot of people use right now. It's definitely a project or startup waiting to happen.

This seems like something that could easily be hacked together over a 3 day weekend (at least a basic version). It could be profitable pretty quickly too if you go for the current Imgur model of ads/pro accounts. *adds to to-do list&

My opinion on Quora is totally different (note, I have no interest, nor I think my point of view is right or wrong, simply different).

I don't 100% support the idea of putting a barrier before content, but I understand their need to grow in terms of registered users (i.e. users for whom they have email or social account). It's a mere strategy for fast growing, a sort of compromise that they chose to do. I don't see this particularly different from the initial Reddit's strategy of fake posts to grow the community (from an ethical point of view, is hiding content so different than creating fake one?). My hope is that this will be just the initial strategy for acquiring users.

I don't 100% support the idea of robbing banks, but I understand the need to obtain money quickly. It's a mere strategy for fast profits, a sort of compromise that the defendant chose to do. My hope is that this will just be their initial strategy for acquiring money, Your Honor.

:) I see your point and I described what I think is the rationale behind. Yet, I believe there's a pretty big gap between hiding some content (that, btw, Quora owns) and robbing a bank. I believe the comparison between hiding content and creating fake one is more fair...

Kind of a dumb strategy in my opinion. A lot of times I'll see a post on quora I want to share on facebook or whatever, but I don't because I know I'll just be irritating my friends when they see a "Signup to read this article" page.

I agree, it seems to conflict with sharing.

However, for 1 person like you that thinks about not sharing, I'm sure there are many that will share without thinking. Moreover -on this point I'm totally sure- if you force users to signup vs you leave the option, no matter how good is your landing page, you will have more signups with the first option.

The point would be to understand how many share they lose vs how many signup they still get, but I guess the math is on their side (note: I'm assuming the most important metric here is number of signups, which is totally an assumption).

The links from their "Share" feature bypass the login wall (though only for the specific piece of content you link to).

It works better when Dijkstra says it.

As far as pricing, isn't that what the uploader of the document sets, not scribd? And yes, quora is unfriendly to use IMO, but do you really feel like they'll make it through the next industry shakeout?

It would actually be great to have something like a web services donation flat rate. Basically something like http://flattr.com but but also for web services and apps, not only for creators and artists. A place where you can spend some money on the places you enjoy online without having to think too hard about it. For example, I would happily pay maybe $10 a month for reddit, Less Wrong and HN, just to cover independence, moderation, server costs and to prevent them from being forced to come up with annoying business models (like those on Quora and Scribd).

What if I told you that already exists, and you can be giving $10 a month or whatever to many websites or individuals right now?

Most people who say "wouldn't it be great" like above end up changing their minds about donating after they find out it's actually possible.

Anyway, if you're still interested, feel free to reply here and I'll forward you to what I'm referring to.

FWIW, I do think it would be great and I'm already giving money to people whose work I think is great and I want to support.

It would be great if it all was bundled in a single place and not many separate services I need to keep track of.

I had Gittip in mind, and it is a single place.

That appears to be directed at individuals too, or am I missing something?

I thought there was no limitations on who can use Flattr, ie services and apps would be free to use it as well.

It doesn't seem to be encouraged either. The site seems to be mainly directed at individuals and it's mostly micropayments.

Quora is an extremely useful service. Whenever I am learning about a topic and want to clarify something, I post the question to Quora. And it is amazing how fast I get a response.

Once I was wondering how the dragon capsule got into orbit with the ISS. Robert Frost and another person spent a lot of time with me in the comments until I finally understood.

I've asked many other questions about where to find certain resources, how to accomplish certain task, etc. and the answers have generally been quite useful!

The great thing about Quora is the site has an active community who spend time on the site. Also you will find experts in certain fields who are willing to spend time answering questions and clearing up misconceptions.

It is an extremely useful and valuable site for me, I really appreciate the Quora community and the help I get from users who answer my questions.

I use Stack Overflow mainly for programming questions instead of Quora. Stackoverflow is amazing.

I have noticed the Stack Exchange network with so many different topics. I think I will start asking questions in the Stack Exchange network as well in addition to Quora and see how they both compare.

Numerous Scribd uploads, which we needed for our business, were fine one day and irretrievable the next. The response from tech support was to re-upload the content, which wasn't possible. Haven't left, yet, because I'm not sure where else to go to host thousands of documents quickly.

What exactly is your use-case? Are you trying to host paywalled documents, or just host the docs for internal use?

I'm working on an alternative; MVP already, now working on some more features. Would you mind sending me an email to discuss what you need (email in profile)? If what we have already suits you I'd love to give you access to our system :)

I don't like Quora, and yet I find myself on Quore surprisingly often because a lot of the questions and answers highlighted in the emails that I still get in my inbox are so interesting.

Does anyone know of a less unpleasant site with Quora-like content?

Okay, but if you didn't get those emails, would you ask those questions?

I end up at Stack Overflow after seeking answers to questions I'm actually asking.

Quora is just entertainment, and a very evil version of it.

It's funny (in a sad way) that YC which wants to "kill Hollywood", presumably because of DRM and such, would end up backing up properties like Scribd and Quora.

Hmm, that's an interesting comment. In the 'grand scheme' of things I suppose Quora is mostly useless, and for the past week's I've been paying more attention to my information consumption. That said, I have found some very valuable stuff on Quora.

One example was the link to the summary of Irvine's book on stoicism: https://booknotes.quora.com/Notes-on-A-Guide-to-the-Good-Lif...

It prompted me to read the actual book.

I've also found a lot of the 'wisdom to younger self' type Q&A's to be very valuable, to the point where I store offline versions in my information thingamajig (DevonThink).

If you haven't already, I would highly advise browsing some of the Stack Exchange sites. http://stackexchange.com/sites

Maybe they don't overlap 100% but, you don't have to pay or login to view questions and answers, and if you post a question in the wrong SE site it can simply be transferred to the correct SE site where the people familiar with that topic can answer appropriately.

Once upon a time I found myself contributing to StackOverflow and Programmers sites just to spite Experts Exchange, which to my dismay kept coming up in my search results instead of questions on a Stack Exchange site. It's consistently been a source of answers to questions that I thought were going to be hard to search for.

scribd sells access to content that users post. It is like youtube selling access to user videos, keeping all the money and telling publishers - " here, you can watch a couple of videos for free"

If anyone wants to read the Declaration of Independence as linked in the article (or any Sribd document blurred in a similar fashion), here's a bookmarklet that will remove the blur and promo boxes: https://gist.github.com/anonymous/f9a222112070b2313b27

It's funny, I actually used a similar trick (text-shadow + transparent font) for an optometrist's website a long time ago. It was just a neat visual effect though, no DRM garbage.

I wonder if sama has seen this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4503910

As a technical fix to the Scribd copy-paste problem you could implement a user script to perform frequency analysis on the text of the document and to correct the text as it is being loaded substituting the DRM font for a regular one. (You can't easily perform the substitution at copy time with JavaScript and put the modified text into the clipboard.)

I've followed and contributed to some questions on Quora that have I've gained useful life and business knowledge from. Saying that, I like to add random bits to Evernote and it drives me nuts you can't copy ANY text from Quora's IOS apps, not even a sentence. That kind of scarcity mentality bugs me enough that I no longer use it.

The copy/paste issue on iOS is a bug, and should be fixed within the next week. Sorry about that. We want people to copy and share content out of Quora far and wide, which is why our terms of service gives people an unusual amount of legal permission to copy and reuse content. See: http://www.quora.com/about/tos

There are a ton of Chinese document-sharing sites similar to Scribd, and they use all the same horrible DRM-ish tricks (some even split the text between Flash and HTML) to make it difficult to save the content. I was briefly involved in a project to reconstruct a PDF from the contents on one of these sites, and the end result did work pretty well.

Querying my full name brings up my Quora profile as the top result on Google, even over my G+ and Facebook profile. No idea how it happened.

I just want to point out that Academia.edu is not much different from the two examples brought by the OP

Hate scribd. Love Quora. Conflicted.

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