Scribd Switches From Flash to HTML5

By | September 17, 2015

Online docs editor and sharing site Scribd is moving its entire web app off of Flash and rebuilding it using HTML5 and web standards.

The company has been developing its free browser-based app — which most of its customers use to make and share presentations and documents, and which provides a more elegant experience than Google Docs or Zoho — in Flash for the past three years.

The announcement was made by Scribd CTO and co-founder Jared Friedman, who spoke on Thursday morning here at the Web 2.0 Expo developer conference. The news was leaked Wednesday to TechCrunch, who ran a report with screenshots of the new interface.

Scribd’s move comes amidst a fiery debate over the future of rich content presentation on the web, whether Flash or emerging web standards like HTML5 is the right tool for the job. Most online document editors now, like those from Google and Zoho, offer standards-based experiences using HTML5, but they are lacking somewhat in advanced text and layout capabilities.

Friedman says Scribd isn’t porting its entire web app off of Flash for any particular political reasons, but rather because web standards have finally reached the point where the company can use them to offer a feature set close enough to the Flash experience for it to make the switch. He says Scribd makes extensive use of multiple emerging standards, including HTML5 markup, the Canvas element and CSS 3, especially the @font-face element.

He did, however, point to one big drawback of Flash — its “browser in the browser” problem. In order to present a web-based app like Scribd’s Flash app, you have to essentially embed one interface (the reader and editor) inside another (the web browser). It adds a layer to the experience that Scribd didn’t feel was elegant.

In a live demo, we got to see a glossy magazine laid out in Scribd, complete with searchable, standards-based text rendered in a fancy font and transformed to be positioned at non-horizontal angles. There were overlays, background images and nicely styled bounding boxes for text, and all of it was editable through a JavaScript-powered toolbar at the bottom of the screen.

Docs can be viewed in a slideshow mode, which moves from slide to slide for presentations and page to page in documents using JavaScript. You can also scroll through the document like it’s a very long web page. Links to your document can be tweeted or shared on Facebook.

Friedman says that by ditching Flash, Scribd is allowing itself to fully compete on mobile devices which don’t support the Flash Player. The current platform to beat — the iPhone and iPad — most famously does not run Flash. Friedman showed off the new version of Scribd on an iPad as part of his presentation.

He also says his company’s initial testing shows that over 90% of browsers can use new Scribd — even IE6 (though we don’t have any way of testing that claim).

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