ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog


Someone did it! They took what I do and “Web 2.0-ified” it!

The name of the site is SCRIBD.COM and it’s got all the now-cliche aspects of Web 2.0: the reflective, this-side-of-children’s toys logo, the insane flash doohickey interface to everything, the half-assed message posting aspect, and of course the link-in to a bunch of “convergence”, i.e. money-making things, like linking to a print service and then having “yahoo this”, “digg this”, “reddit this”, “send more traffic to us so we can have ads up”. Additionally, you get the classic “profile” as Web 2.0 sites like to do it, with a photo and a bunch of dashedly written sentences about nothing in particular.

Does this make me happy? Well, I always have mixed feelings about this. There’s a part of me, for example, that wants me to shoot myself in the face in the ER of a hospital, so they can revive me, so I can shoot myself in the face again.

The other part of me, however, is always fascinated by little toys when they show up, and the fact that this toy is dedicated to documents and writing instead of video, and then potentially the quality of the artifacts being uploaded could be better than what they have on YouTube, hey, never let it be said I’m against a little browsing.

Unlike YouTube, however, where you often have copyright violation of items nobody cares about (snippets of 20-year-old public access cable and rare recordings of commercials of companies long dead), I can’t help but feel that people, and by people I mean copyright holders, are going to care about things like the entire O’Reilly Library, ‘Freakonomics” by Steven Levitt, and the Amber series by Roger Zelazny. Even in its relative youth, this website is loaded over with people uploading straight-up books and magazines and novels. The term often used by parties duplicating written works without authorization is “bookwarez”. Maybe they should have called it ‘Bookwrz”. and made a pretty logo. Oh wait, they did, but they spelled it SCRIBD.

Also never let it be said that I’m against a little copyright violation here and there; the copyright law in the US is a little over the top right now and covers all sorts of things that should probably expire a lot sooner than up to 90 years after the death of the creator. There are probably a few things on that could stand to be removed, although I do my best to keep that under control and make hard choices along that line. But here we have a case that a company is basically set up as a rape-tastic “bookwarez” fest, and is trying the old Napster/Youtube/Bittorrent trick: build a company that permits wholesale copying of a type of data, ignore that a lot of that data normally comes up for sale in stores, and wait for someone big to buy you out. If you ever read the book “All the Rave”, which is about Napster (and who knows, it’ll probably show up on Scribd any minute now), it’s pretty clear that the business plan of Napster was “keep ignoring everything until we’re so big a music company buys us out” and it was only greed on the part of some parties with Napster that made this fail. YouTube kind of ignores copyright (although they got better about responding to takedown notices) and they got bought out by Google.

I am a child of Ascii Express lines, of pirate BBSes and “legit” BBSes that had secret sides accessible by password or a different phone number. I claim no moral high ground here, and there is a lot to be mined in that relationship I and others had in our youth with regards to computer software and “warez” trading. But you know, the general sense of it wasn’t to look at it as a business model. I think that’s sort of what makes it icky for me. The fact that they would have a currently-in-stores book up there and then have a service where you could use a print server and pay to get the PDF printed… there’s some line their little moneywagon just crossed.

I must state again that their little tools are neat: things that will transfer a book into MP3 (i.e. read it using a text-to-speech converter) and analysis/statistics of the book that show the wordcounts and how this compares to the “average” item. You can download these items as textfiles and as PDF files, although they screw the name up pretty badly to make sure the filename is unique: the 2006 Taschen Catalog is renamed to “fwcrv8q7y1iac.pdf”, which doesn’t really give me a sense of what’s located inside.

One tool that I actually like a lot is the “analytics”, which watches who downloads/view a given document and shows maps of where they came from, logs of who came from where, and so on. That sort of stuff is neat. I wish it wasn’t some locked-away piece of a bookwarez site, of course.

And so we come again to my main reaction. How neat, how weird, how doomed. Fascinating, some interesting ideas, but surrounded by lame little messages, whack-ass profiles, and complete copyrighted works held up for the taking. And it’s not even in Sweden.

I don’t think I’ll take down yet; I think it still has a niche that SCRIBD isn’t fulfilling. As you might expect, I get the occasional suggestion that I should turn my site into something not unlike what SCRIBD is; more user interaction, ability of people to upload textfiles, to have “profiles”, to comment on each textfile, and so on. To these people, I can now point to SCRIBD and say “And this is what it would look like.” A gigantic, farting zeppelin of web 2.0 lazily rising into the sky to grab a little piece of the money sun before exploding in flames. Will they make it to the safety of the moon before they’re caught out for facilitating book piracy as a business model?

The race is on. Good luck, bastards.

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  1. There used to be an old (and now technically outdated) joke that went, “Why telephones have more holes in the mouthpiece than in the earpiece? Because people like to talk more than they like to listen!” Due to advances in telephone design this doesn’t necessarily apply to today’s phones, but it still applies to a lot of people. Many (most?) people like to talk more than they like to listen, and to me, that sums up the Web 2.0 experience in general. People feel a need to “be a part of” whatever it is that “you’re” doing. There are videos on YouTube with dozens of pages responses, most of which are along the lines of, “OMGWTF ROFLOLZ!!21!!!1!!” Who’s reading that drivel? The answer is, no one, and it doesn’t matter. People simply like to talk, even if no one’s listening. Web 2.0’s not the only example of this — look at shows like American Idol that rely on voter participation and you’ll see what I mean — but Web 2.0 is the epitome of user interaction. A million Digg users, voting on the popularity of news headlines, that’s Web 2.0.

    That being said, I’ve always felt like would benefit from an upload area. I (and surely others) have locals textfiles that you don’t. I’m sure a simple e-mail your way would lead to an FTP site or some other method of getting files from me to you, but an upload form (obviously with certain limitations to prevent abuse) on would remind me.

  2. some dude says:

    hey – dunna wanna leave my nfo, so just notes instead.

    This site rocks man. Thank you.
    Don’t sweat whatever some otha assholez do.