Recently my friend Bob Davis asked me to recommend a service to distribute a 30-page document he had written, “Management As a Spiritual Practice.” He told me he didn’t want to start a blog, just distribute this one document.
While I’m a strong believer in “self-publishing” I usually don’t have the need for such services since I maintain my own website and blog with a page dedicated to articles available as downloadable .pdf’s.
But how to handle an individual .pdf without getting tangled up in a lot of website rigamarole?
The first answer that came to mind was simple: Scribd.com. This is how they describe their service:
Scribd is the world’s largest online library. We’ve made it easy to share and discover entertaining, informative and original written content across the web and mobile devices.
Scribd is a technology company based in San Francisco. We’re rapidly changing the publishing industry and having a lot of fun in the process.
Well, OK. That’s not a lot of info and it’s tucked amongst a lot of images of happy, youngish staff obviously “…having a lot of fun.” But I’ve used the service before, have seen that it works, and in a matter of minutes Bob had signed up for Scribd and had uploaded his document which was findable by Google and accessible with its own URL: http://www.scribd.com/doc/101741931
I’ve also tried Scribd’s new smartphone app Float but it appears to be less of a file access tool than a combination news-aggregator and social media sharing tool. So far I have not been able to figure out if I can see Scribd files (such as Bob’s paper) using Float. I need to work some more with Float’s “Feed” feature to see how this works and will report back.
But that’s not all…
Scribd is not the only option for single-file distribution. A bit later in the day I was testing out my new free Microsoft “Outlook” email service. I was able to claim “email@example.com as my email address and I stumbled across that the account offers access to Microsoft’s “SkyDrive” service. Here is how Microsoft describes SkyDrive:
Store any file on your free SkyDrive and it’s automatically available from your phone and computers—no syncing or cables needed. When you use SkyDrive, you’ll never be without the documents, notes, photos, and videos that matter to you. … SkyDrive works on your devices with a free download. Or you can sign in and get to your files at SkyDrive.com.
After “claiming” my Outlook.com email address, I downloaded the SkyDrive software to my Windows laptop’s desktop. SkyDrive displayed the same folders on my laptop as on the online SkyDrive service adjacent to Outlook.com.
I created a public folder in SkyDrive. You can make files or folders public, private, or shared the with specific email addresses. Into my folder I loaded three .pdf documents of my own; the desktop and online files are automatically synchronized between your computer and the “cloud.” I then added a fourth file to the SkyDrive folder on my laptop and within seconds the fourth document also appeared online at the folder’s web address.
Here is a link to the “public” folder I created that contains .pdf versions of articles from my own blog:
One of the nice features of SkyDrive is that when you elect to share the link to a file or folder via email it gives you the option of providing a shortened link (like the one above), or the original longer link. This is what the original longer — and uglier — SkyDrive link looks like:
An added bonus: if you download the SkyDrive app to your smartphone — I downloaded the SkyDrive app to my iPhone — you can access you folders and files from there as well.
And there’s more…
Users of Google Drive will recognize much of the SkyDrive functionality if they already use the online version of Google Docs or the smartphone app.
I’m a Gmail and a Google+ user and I use Google Drive constantly both for personal work and for work related sharing. As a result of using the free applications available within Google Drive (word processing, spreadsheet, presentations, forms, drawing ) I have reduced my use of Microsoft Office by at least 80% for normal use. I also have the Google Drive app on my iPhone and a Google Drive folder on my Windows laptop as well.
Here is the web link to the “public docs” folder I created on my laptop in the “Google Drive” folder, the contents of which are automatically synced with the “public docs” folder on the web version of Google Drive:
Unfortunately, I don’t see a built in URL “shortener” the way there is one for SkyDrive. Perhaps Google will add one in the future. As with SkyDrive, if you add a file to a shared Google Drive folder on your own computer, that file is automatically uploaded and synched with the web version of Google Drive. In other words, as with SkyDrive, I can add more files to the above linked folder and the folder link will remain the same. That feature has some advantages if you are working with a group and the population of files you need to share changes over time.
I started looking afresh at these services when Bob asked me about his own file distribution requirements, and I recommended Scribd.com. That made the most sense for him and the solution seems to be working well. We’re now working to see about publishing his document via Amazon for use on the Kindle.
I could also have suggested Google Drive of SkyDrive, or I could have gone further and looked at other potential services that allow you to define and share files and folders online. But I think viewing the three shown above gives you a good overview of what’s becoming available.
Of the three, Scribd.com is most definitely promoted as a “full service” publishing and file sharing service. It’s easy to use and has a variety of wrap-around services that make it very useful for distributing pre-existing .pdf, Word, and other format files. For example, Scribd.com includes tagging, categorization, and a variety of ways to target and promote different publications and markets. Scribd incorporate a variety of blog-like features for connecting with and sharing information via email or various social networks, if you choose to do so.
Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive also provide a variety of file sharing features that I’ve touched on above, plus they offer a full suite of file creation tools, with Google Docs’ shared collaboration and commenting features among those I am most familiar with.
SkyDrive has four very familiar icons at the top of the screen showing that it can be used for “cloud based” file creation as well — Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. This connection with the emerging Microsoft cloud based “ecosystem” may be a very strong inducement to corporate users and the many others already comfortable with using Microsoft Office type tools but who are seeking more cross-platform sharing and access.
Finally, consider the mobile experience, e.g., accessing files via smartphones and tablet computers. I’ve tested both the SkyDrive and Google Drive apps on my iPhone and they work very cleanly for accessing the .pdf documents I’ve loaded up; I have not yet tested them with other file formats.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. Dennis is a Washington DC area consultant specializing in collaborative project management and new technology adoption. His clients have included the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the National Library of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering, and the World Bank Group. Contact Dennis via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 703-402-7382.