Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The PDF Paradigm


Those 3 letters have made Adobe a heck of a lot of money. The ability to lock down and present a downloadable, readable flat-file to anyone is pretty sweet. No one else came up with it. Microsoft didn't, Apple didn't, a host of other multi-billion dollar companies didn't. Adobe just focused on something it was good at and created a new need for the industry. Really, for all industries. As ubiquitous as the Adobe Reader is, I don't think there is a single company in existence, large or small, that doesn't make use of the PDF format.

So what is it about that PDF Paradigm that I find so intriguing? I believe that the accessibility of a PDF document implies interactivity. Albeit the level of interactivity is simply downloading to your hard drive (or within your browser). And this is really no fault of anyone's, it's just a general urban myth that has arisen and continues to propagate itself as there is really no challenge to this "interactive" perception.

But what is the truth? In a world where keeping people at or on your web site is the ultimate goal (think "sticky"), the PDF paradigm runs counter to that goal. When you click on a PDF link you are taken away from the framework of the web site. You are taken away from the dynamic capabilities that the HTML/Javascript/CSS/Flash world enables and are rendered a flat, static world that you can either save on your hard drive or print.

Where the PDF is an alternative, a more permanent legacy to an interactive component, feature or set of wisdom within a site, that is a perfect use. But recognize that it should be used as a redundant feature, not as a primary resource.

Take an accounting of your web site. I think travel and tourism web sites are some of the primary culprits here. Look at all the documents you have (what I would really ask you to focus on is all the maps you have converted to PDF) and think about what the PDF is doing and if that fits the intent. If your PDF is a map, I would say look at SideStreet, or a Flash implementation or, if you don't care about losing any branding, even a Google or Yahoo map. The key is to keep people on your site.

Are you?

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