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Scribd to kill the e-mail attachment

We sit down with document host Scribd.

Document host Scribd has a new service for people afraid of opening attachments. It's simply an e-mail address ( you add as a CC recipient on your e-mails. If there are any documents attached, they'll be uploaded to Scribd and hosted for you. Less than a minute later the service sends a second e-mail with a link to that document or documents on Scribd, all of which have been set to private--regardless of whether you or the people who are getting the e-mail have Scridb accounts.

Last week I sat down with Scribd co-founder Trip Adler to chat about this new service and Scribd in general. The last time I wrote about them it was for the dubious Paper-to-iPaper program, which lets people send off their paper documents to be scanned and hosted. I gave it a try and it actually works as advertised--they even send it back free of charge. The whole process took about three weeks, which Alder says will be shortened as the program progresses.

Scribd founder Trip Alder CNET Networks / Josh Lowensohn

WW: What are users uploading the most of?

Alder: We get a lot of academic papers, school work, study notes, things like that. We get a lot of eBooks and presentations for work and legal documents. We get a lot of slideshows of photos.

WW: What's the average size of what people are uploading?

Alder: It ranges. We have a lot of really long documents that go over 1,000 pages, and a lot of really short ones too. The long stuff tends to be more interesting, it gets a lot more traffic too.

WW: Have you thought about spinning off versions for niche sites, like adult content or something document heavy like the Smoking Gun?

Alder: We've thought it, but we're working with educational institutions and big enterprises, and people can find that stuff somewhere else.

WW: Speaking of which, how is the push to get school to use your service?

Alder: There are institutions using it, we haven't been pushing that hard because it takes forever to contact universities. We talked to Harvard for example, where I went to school, and it's so hard to get the entire organization to use a single tool because it's so segmented into different areas. MIT OpenCourseWare is uploading all their documents. They created an account just to test it out--they don't have that much yet. They're going to upload about 100,000 documents. As we get bigger and get more resources we'll definitely try to get out and talk to more universities and get them to upload content.

WW: Do you have any users who are uploading an outrageous amount of stuff?

Alder: Yeah we have some power users. We had one guy who was uploading 40,000 documents or something. We ended up hiring him and now he's our community manager.

WW: What type of content was it?

Alder: All these comic books and eBooks. He had like 44,000 logo files, just PDF files of logos.

Scribd's Paper-to-iPaper program lets you send off paper documents and have them scanned and hosted for free. They even send it back to you. CNET Networks / Josh Lowensohn

WW: Tell me more about Paper to iPaper. What's the cost involved in scanning and sending items back to people?

Alder: I don't know the exact numbers, but the scanning is only a few cents a page. That's all done by Shipping it back, we haven't actually done that yet! We've only had a few people who have wanted to do it.

WW: I tried it.

Alder: Really? What did you send in?

WW: I can't tell you--it's a surprise. So tell me more about, do you see this going down a road where people want to start using your service to host other types of files like large pictures and videos?

Alder: Right now we're just focused on document formats. We don't have support for videos, we think people will use YouTube for that. Flickr does a good job on photos and YouTube does a good job for videos and people will use those. It's definitely something we might do later down the road.

WW: So what about images, because right now you can upload images to Scribd.

Alder: We're gonna kill image upload. It doesn't drive as much traffic and it doesn't (help) our brand. Our philosophy is if people want to put images inside of a Word file that's fine, but it's annoying when someone uploads 100 pictures of their dog--because nobody wants to see that on our site. It also doesn't get indexed by Google.

WW: So coming back to, what about people using e-mail services like Gmail that are starting to do this for you with everything?

Alder: That works too, that doesn't always preserve formatting though. Our system will preserve formatting, and it lets you zoom in and zoom out. It's an alternative to that.

WW: This is off topic, but how fast do you guys pick up on content that has copyrights?

Alder: There are two ways, one is in our copyright software, so anything that's been taken down before gets automatically flagged as a copyright violation. So for example, we were getting Harry Potter books every single week. Now that the filter is up, if you tried to upload it you'd get a message that says 'you cannot put that up.' And then we also do anything that people notify us about, either users or through the DMCA. And then occasionally if something is really obviously copyrighted, like a book we remove it. We try not to police our own site though, because it's really hard to tell.

WW: Have you guys been doing anything with Data Portability or OpenID?

Alder: Yeah we use a service called ClickPass for when you want to log in.

WW: Regarding the iPaper platform, have you seen any people who are making a big chunk of change off that?

Alder: Honestly, no. Ads on documents have not been very popular. They work really well, they get great CPMs, but the problem has been with adoption. Places that would get the traffic aren't taking advantage--yet.

WW: Have any Scribd success stories?

Alder: Yes actually, this writer started publishing on Scribd every day for over a year and he wrote this essay 'Why Intelligent People Tend to Be Unhappy' and it became this huge hit on the internet. And he got invited to go on the Adam Carolla show. He's been invited to go to all these conferences to talk about his theory, and he's now a celebrity because of our platform.

WW: Great, thanks Trip.

You can read more about the new service on Scribd's company blog. There's also a video demo of it here in case you're bewildered on how to use the CC function in your e-mail client.