A new tool for embedding documents on Web pages is cropping up on sites as diverse as the storage service Drop.io; LabMeeting, a social network for scientists; and the Obama campaign’s official blog. Launched earlier this year, the format, called iPaper, is technology from Scribd, a company that hopes to become the sort of clearinghouse for documents that YouTube is for videos. With iPaper, the company offers a browser-based system for viewing documents that retains their original formatting and can be employed by the 98 percent of Internet users who have installed Adobe Flash.
Although most Web pages are documents, they often don’t display consistently from one browser to another, and it can be awkward to navigate through a large document if it’s displayed as a series of connected pages on the Web. Alternatively, when individuals want to share documents with each other, they can have compatibility problems. For example, the new .docx format created by Microsoft’s Office 2007 can’t be accessed by many other programs, including earlier versions of Office. One traditional method to solve both of these problems has been Adobe PDFs, which preserve formatting and can be opened by most computer users.
However, Jared Friedman, chief technology officer of Scribd, sees a need for a solution to the problem that’s built specifically for use through the browser. He says that browser-based versions have been built for most essential desktop programs. “In some sense, Adobe Acrobat is among the last programs to migrate online in a Web-based version,” Friedman says.
Web-based software is typically stripped of some of the specialized features available in desktop versions but has added social features. IPaper is no exception. Users can convert documents, including PDFs, Word documents, and rich text files, into iPaper by uploading them to the Scribd website or to a website that supports Scribd’s system. Readers can navigate documents by scrolling or flipping to a tile view, search them, and copy and paste. They can also share them, embed them on other sites, and, if the publisher chooses to allow it, download them in their original format to view offline.
FlashPaper, an earlier technology from Macromedia, inspired Scribd and iPaper, according to CEO and cofounder Trip Adler. Since Adobe didn’t continue to support the product after it acquired Macromedia, Scribd decided to build its own version from scratch. The iPaper technology is built using Adobe Flash, and it streams documents to a Web page. This allows a reader to jump smoothly to page 500 of a document, for example, even if the rest of the document is still loading. Although Flash has recently become easier for search engines to index, Friedman says that streaming documents can still be a problem. Scribd supplements iPaper documents with a searchable format that crawlers can read.