Last summer I was looking for alternatives to custom Flash scripts to allow me to put a portion of my novel DisasterLand online. I had no interest in spending time to build something from scratch, and I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted on any of the script sites. I wanted to maintain the look and feel of the book as much as possible, and it didn’t want the excerpt to be easily copied.
Scribd was the only thing that came out of literally hours of searching and though it didn’t offer me what I wanted—a way to quickly add documents to my own site—it did offer something interesting: a way for users to share documents with the public. Basically, a YouTube for documents as others have put it.
After a bit of study, I realized that they had simply created a web-based interface with Adobe’s FlashPaper software. So then I turned to FlashPaper. Firstly, it wasn’t offered for the Mac but that wasn’t a tragedy… Yet why wasn’t it used more often? Why hadn’t I heard of it? Why wasn’t it being updated for Vista? Was it worth $79 for one brief excerpt?
In the end, I decided to spend a bit of time and create a simple Flash script. So I put chapter one online.
A few weeks ago, I realized this wasn’t working. The limited excerpt wasn’t of any use to a serious reader—anyone could write an opening chapter, and there was no indication that any of the rest of the book was of the same quality. I had to find a way to put up a more significant chunk of the book online, easily and functionally.
While working on another project I came across the Saddleback Educational Publishing website, and their very impressive web catalog (top left on the site, I can’t link directly). The VirtualPages catalog from Impelsys was exactly what I wanted: clean, visually attractive and functionally rich. Yet, it seemed, at a price. Their site doesn’t list pricing, which told me whatever it was, I couldn’t afford it. Self-publishing is a cottage industry, and I was looking for pricing in the high teens. Tops. The $79 for FlashPaper had been really pushing it.
Again, I wound up at Scribd: yet this time I was in for a treat. In February, they had released iPaper, their own custom alternative to Adobe’s now-abandoned FlashPaper. iPaper does the same thing—creates .swf files out of documents—but it is web-based and free. In case you’re wondering, iPaper automatically converts: .doc, .ppt, .pps, .xls, .pdf, .ps, .odt, .odp, .sxw, .sxi, .jpg, .jpeg, .png, .gif, .txt, .rtf files and more.
Perfect? Almost. The pages look great (the page turn animations are incredibly convincing), offer fullscreen viewing options and customization of how the documents are initially presented to the viewer. With a setting of private, documents can not be emailed or shared but can be printed. The actual implementation was straightforward and quick, though it took me a bit of time to figure out the iPaper/Scribd integration. Scribd bandwidth comes via Amazon’s S3, so it’s quick and reliable.
The downside is that iPaper feels very much like a Scribd afterthought to me, and I’m still not 100% convinced the documents are secure. Also, when a reader clicks to open the document full-screen (something they inevitably have to do to read conveniently), the window that opens up does not open in a new window, but in the same window, and the URL is inelegant. Annoying, but not a disaster.
To save you some time, I’ve written a little guide to adding iPaper to your site, which should save you a bit of time.
Quickly, though, I realized I wanted the document to appear as a book, not as the default. I checked the API and didn’t see a way to add that functionality. I eventually thought to check Scribd directly, so I brought up my account and my document. From there I could set document preferences (’Edit’ along top menu bar, then ‘More Advanced Options’)—including default presentation. Perfect!
The further I got into the preferences, however, the more tenuous the security felt to me. The initial preferences were set to private, but didn’t include a copyright specification (I set this myself) and even though the document was set to private, the default is ‘allow users to download as a word document, .pdf and text file’. It didn’t seem to matter as the document was private, but I changed them anyway. Again, disconcerting.
Recommendations: I tried everything I could think of to trick Scribd into giving me access to the document, but it wouldn’t. So I feel pretty secure. The integration needs to be much better, the options clearer and the settings coordinated between iPaper and Scribd, but everything works like it should. I do wish I could turn off printing if I wanted to—I don’t, but can see why someone would. Also, probably my biggest complaint is the fullscreen version opening in the same window—it should open in a new window/tab. It improves the user experience, but also as importantly to site owners, it keeps Google Analytics functioning since users haven’t been navigated away from the initial page. I also wish the URL was a bit less… brazen:
But just as people can access photos from Flickr or videos from YouTube, I can see Scribd being hacked in the same manner and even private files able to be downloaded. But maybe not. Just to make sure I watermarked the interior pages of my document.
iPaper and AdSense
Another really promising feature is that iPaper’s coders have hacked AdSense to allow ads to appear within your document. I didn’t elect to do this, and can’t find a document that is currently hosting AdSense ads. As has been pointed out (see link), this is against AdSense’s TOS, but Google might go along with this one since it’s in everyone’s best interest. iPaper still prominently touts this feature, so I don’t think it’s been removed. Anyone have any feedback on this?