I’ve been taking a break from my RSS reader for the last couple of weeks, so I didn’t hear about Scribd’s iPaper until yesterday. If you also need to be filled in: Scribd is a Y Combinator startup who writes software “that makes it easy to share documents online.” They want to be the YouTube of documents. iPaper is their new Flash-based platform for document sharing:
iPaper is a document format built for the Internet. Like a YouTube video, iPaper documents are Flash widgets which you embed in your existing web pages. PDF, Word, PowerPoint, and many other document formats can all be displayed on the web using iPaper.
iPaper is designed to be fast, light, and simple. Because it’s integrated into your site, iPaper offers a fluid browsing experience, keeping visitors on your site. It has a small footprint, doesn’t require the installation of additional software, and it’s not loaded with superfluous features.
Now I would be the last guy to defend PDF. I’ve invented entirely new swear words just for Acrobat. And I’ve written before about how downloading documents is a seam in the web experience. iPaper seems like it could be an improvement — but it remains to be seen.
But what worries me a bit about iPaper is that if it becomes popular, it’s another step towards a centralized web. One of the greatest things about the internet is that it’s mostly decentralized — a single point of failure can only have a limited impact. If a single email provider like Yahoo! goes down, then only Yahoo! users are affected. The same with my web site: if CNN goes down, it doesn’t have an impact on me. But if your site relies on YouTube and Scribd to serve your content, then you are screwed if one of those sites goes down. (Or goes bankrupt, or gets shut down by the feds, or …)
As we move towards the vision of “utility computing” — where CPU cycles and software are delivered like gas and electricity — centralization is becoming more and more of a problem. The Amazon S3 outage last week brought down quite a few sites. Think about all the sites that rely on Amazon S3 and EC2, Google Maps, YouTube, and maybe soon Scribd.
The web is becoming fragile.