Scridb Seems to be Successful in Enhancing Access to Papers
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 10 January 2011
I first wrote about the Scribd document repository service back in March 2007 in a post entitled “Scribd – Doing For Documents What Slideshare Does For Presentations“. Since then I have uploaded a number of papers to the service. But almost three years on, how has the service developed?
My original post summarised some of the benefits of the service but highlighted a number of concerns:
Has Scribd raised the bar in users’ expectations for digital repositories? In some respects, I feel it has. However there are concerns which need to be recognised:
- Poor quality resources which are hosted: there is no guarantee of the quality of the resources which are hosted on Scribd. And there are copyrighted publications (including those from O’Reilly) which have already been uploaded.
- Sustainability of the service: As will all of these type of services, there is the question as to whether such services are sustainable. Techcrunch reported on 6 March 2007 that the service “is coming out of private beta this morning with a fresh Angel investment of $300K on top of their original Y Combinator nest egg of $12,000.“This may keep the service running for a short time, but will it be around in the medium to long term? And what will happen if copyright holders, such as O’Reilly, take the service to court for their misuse of their copyrighted resources (as Viacomm have recently done to YouTube).
- Lack of a interoperable resource discovery architecture: The approach taken by Scribd is not interoperable with the approach being taken by the JISC development community, which is looking to support the development of distributed interoperable digital repository services which make use of OAI-PMH.
Three years later the service is still available. And looking at the statistics for access to documents I uploaded to the service, it also seems very popular: during 2010 there were no fewer than 11,729 views of the 15 papers I uploaded to the service, an average of 32 per day. As you can see from the graph below there were two significant peaks in the year, when there were over 800 in a day. If I remove these outliers by viewing the statistics for the last six months of the year I find 4,215 views in the six month period, giving an average of 24 per day.
In comparison looking at the usage statistics for my 26 papers hosted in the University of Bath Opus repository I find that there have been 2,505 views during 2010.
Hmm, the repository has almost twice as many papers and resources in the repository are linked to from the UKOLN Web site and from posts on this blog. The repository also benefits from being part of a larger repository ecology, with access available from services such as OpenDOAR and MIMAS’s Institutional Repository Search. And yet the Scribd service seems to get significantly more visits.
Looking at a specific instance, my most recent paper, “Moving From Personal to Organisational Use of the Social Web“, was presented at the Online Information 2010 at the end of November. This paper was uploaded to the University of Bath repository and was mentioned in a blog post on “Availability of Paper on “Moving From Personal to Organisational Use of the Social Web”” which linked to the copy in the repository. The paper was also uploaded to Scribd – and this was also mentioned in the blog post (and was, indeed, embedded in the post). The usage statistics to date (10 January 2011) are 53 views in the University of Bath repository and 447 views on Scribd.
Scribd also provides a easy-to-use interface for viewing usage statistics for individual papers. As can be see from the image, there was a peak (of 181 views) on the day the blog post was published with a smaller peak (102 views) three days previously. The total number of views from embedded reads (i.e. people who read the blog post and may – or may not -have actually read the embedded paper) is 349. This leaves 160 views of the paper within the Scribd environment – over three times as many views as received for the copy in the institutional repository.
Whilst I can’t help but think that the usage statistics are flawed, I don’t have any evidence of this. I would appreciate suggestions why the views seem so large. But I also suspect that there will be views from people who were searching for information provided in the papers – and if only 10% of the views came from satisfied users that would be on par with those viewing the larger number of papers in the institutional repository (which is also likely, of course, to be inflated by readers using Google to view papers which aren’t of interest).
Now Scribd does seem to host, how shall I put it, a wide variety of types of documents, not all of which are of relevance to researchers. But the service does have a variety of features which can help to enhance access to documents such as links to Social Web services such as Twitter and Facebook for promoting documents of interest to one’s professional network and the ability for documents to be embedded in other Web sites.
So if one wishes to maximise the impact of one’s ideas will the institutional repository or a commercial service such as Scribd provide the best solution? Or perhaps one should use both approaches? And if you feel that researchers will prefer to use a more research-friendly environment than is provided by Scridb, remember than researchers, like everyone else, use Google, which will also find resources of dubious scholarly relevance for searches.