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Platforms for Knowledge Re-Presentation: SlideShare and Scribd

webexsf2010 As a remote "participant" at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco this week, I was eager to utilize various online channels for enriching my experience of the knowledge, observations and insights shared by the presenters at the event. During the conference, I watched some of the keynotes on the web20tv LiveStream; now that the conference is over, there is a page with videos and/or slides from many of the talks. Two of the keynotes were by co-founders of web services designed as platforms to share slides and other re-presentations of knowledge - SlideShare and Scribd - and I thought I would re-present some of that knowledge here.

Slideshare_550x150 On Wednesday, Rashmi Sinha, Co-founder and CEO of SlideShare, presented Work Wants to be Social: 5 Things we have Learnt from SlideShare, in which she described SlideShare as a massively multiplayer game, emphasized the importance of the visual dimension of the social web, and echoed the "pivot" theme articulated by Eric Ries during the first day of Web 2.0 Expo keynotes in her exhortation to recognize when it's time to change and be willing to evolve. She then modeled this entrepreneurial adaptability by announcing that SlideShare now allows direct video uploads, adding audio ("slidecasts" - though this may be old news), embedding of presentations and videos on LinkedIn, and has broadened its aim to become "The World's Largest Professional Sharing Community".

Work wants to be social
View more presentations from Rashmi Sinha.

I understand Rashmi's motivation (growth and evolution), and believe that this represents a a strategically important step toward potential exit strategies (e.g., being acquired by LinkedIn). However, I still find the earlier, more focused, mantra of SlideShare - "YouTube for Powerpoint" - more compelling. I have not made many professionally-oriented (or professionally-made) videos, but I would still prefer to upload them to YouTube, as it is a considerably more popular platform, and embed or link to them from SlideShare, to get the best of both worlds. She noted that Eric Ries has posted a few videos to his Startup Lessons Learned SlideShare channel, and it will be interesting to see whether this is a feature that will be widely used by others.

Scribd-logo On Thursday, Jared Friedman, Co-founder and CTO of Scribd, presented HTML5 and the Future of Publishing, in which he described the rationale for the strategic decision made by Scribd to rebuild what he described as the largest document sharing service (10 million documents) to shift from Flash to HTML5. Noting that Flash on the web represents, in effect, a browser within a browser, the Scribd team returned to first principles, asking why do we need a document reader within a browser, and why aren't documents web pages? Give the challenges of rich formatting (positioning, orientation, fonts), they considered converting documents to images, but realized that this would create other problems, e.g., effectively hiding documents by substituting images for text that search engines might index. Offering an alternative - or perhaps orthogonal - perspective to Rashmi Sinha's observation the social web is visual, Jared noted that text is the glue that holds the web together.

Oddly, I could not find the slides Jared used in his presentation - even though there are many other presentations in the web2expo Scribd channel - but I'll embed what appears to be a related slide presentation from Scribd below, to provide context for both the content of his talk and the platform he was talking about.

Scribd in HTML5

I just uploaded my first Powerpoint presentation to the Gumption Scribd channel, a presentation on RFID I gave four years ago (which, given a recent Mashable article on Near Field Communication: 6 Ways It Could Change Our Daily Lives, reminds me that the future is still unevenly distributed). It seems to have many of the same features I enjoy in SlideShare: embeddability, downloadability, easy sharing on many social networking services and statistics about views (or "reads"). Scribd supports a variety of document types beyond presentations, but does not appear to support videos. Like SlideShare, it offers pre-defined categories, but it does not appear to support tags (which I personally find more useful). And, of course, Scribd's migration to HTML5 - the main focus of Jared's talk - could be an increasingly significant differentiator between the two services.

As a disclaimer, I should note that I've been a TiVo-like fanatic about SlideShare since discovering the service over three years ago, and have shared 27 presentations in my Gumption SlideShare channel. The tipping point for me came early on, when a presentation I gave at a PopTech 2007 session on The Future of Mobility - Empowering People through Mobile Technologies in Developing Regions - made it to the SlideShare leaderboard of most popular presentations for a few days shortly thereafter. I have since promoted SlideShare at every conference I've attended - physically or virtually - and recently helped a friend discover the thrill of having a presentation reach #1 on SlideShare.

I have been especially evangelistic at my "home" conferences, UbiComp and CSCW, but have been only modestly successful: the number of presentations posted has increased at UbiComp - UbiComp 2007 (7), UbiComp 2008 (10) and UbiComp 2009 (12) - but decreased at CSCW (which, ironically, is trying to attract more research and researchers in social media) - CSCW 2008 (8) and CSCW 2010 (4). Perhaps this limited success is related to many academics' natural disinclination for shameless self-promotion. I'm glad to see so many presentations from Web 2.0 Expo on SlideShare - and Scribd - and suspect this is partly due to the relatively low proportion of academics who gave talks at the conference: businessfolk are not ashamed of self-promotion.

I believe that knowledge is power, and so am excited about platforms for spreading knowledge like SlideShare and Scribd as empowering technologies ... and will continue to evangelize their use, despite the varying degrees of success I have experienced thus far.

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