Scribd joins platform game, sets sights at killing Adobe Acrobat

Get documents on the Web fast with Scribd's new iPaper document viewer.

We've been giving some play to Adobe Acrobat replacements and other PDF tools in the last few weeks, and it's clear people are serious about handling a large variety of document types without having to muck about with the right software or browser extensions.

To that end Scribd, a start-up that's all about documents and how to share them with others, has had a solution of its own using Adobe's FlashPaper and crunching all sorts of documents to fit in it. This morning the company launched its own viewer that not only replaces FlashPaper, but also improves upon its design for both users and publishers.

The new viewer is called iPaper. While the name might bring to mind Apple products of yore, the document viewer is a total Acrobat killer. It's fast, lightweight, and is designed with Web readers in mind. While it may look similar to FlashPaper, there are several key differences that make it much better suited for long documents, photos, and Web videos.

Scribd's iPaper one-ups FlashPaper in letting you view, share, and integrate documents into Web sites. CNET Networks

The biggest one being that iPaper has been designed with publishers in mind. The viewer goes hand-in-hand with a new publishing platform that lets Web publishers integrate advertising into documents or media they feel like sharing. There are no preroll or off-to-the-side ads; instead Scribd has worked in Google AdSense text ads that have been put between every few document pages and that slurp up contextual ads based on what's contained the document (example here). It's effective and not annoying.

Secondly, the publishing platform lets site owners integrate iPaper into their sites. There are three basic ways to do it. The first is basic embedding (which existed before iPaper), as well as a tool called QuickSwitch that will automatically convert any linked document into a hosted iPaper player when site owners install a small line of code on their page. For power users, there's also an open API that lets them integrate iPaper and document conversion into the back end of their sites or services.

While I think Adobe will eventually address the bloat that Acrobat has become for Web users, it's up to publishers to take a proactive approach to letting the greatest number of users access content in the same way they read words or watch videos. For that, Flash is definitely a phenomenal go-to. The iPaper document viewer shows promise at unifying document sharing by lowering the barrier to entry for users who simply don't want to deal with the hassle of extra applications.

I've embedded an example of the iPaper viewer after the break. Be sure to play around with the table of contents and zoom controls.

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