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Linking to PDFs: Not the Best of Form

By bk, Section Opinion
Posted on Sun Oct 19th, 2003 at 04:47:21 PM EST

I posted a comment to Mark Jordan's "Self-Education of Systems Librians" concerning the fact that Mark linked to a PDF. I asserted that linking to a PDF is like posting html to a news group, not the best of form. Dan welcomed me to the group by claiming that my comment was not helpful. I apologize if I offended. H suggested I post an opinion, so here it is.

In that post I made a reference to a Jakob Nielson article PDF: Unfit for Human Consumption I don't know if Dan read that article but I think Nielson's point is a good one, that PDFs are not good for use on-line.

I may be more sensitive to this issue than others for in my current situation I find more and more poeple want to upload and link to Word, PowerPoint, and PDFs when there is nothing about the those documents that that can't be expressed in html. In my situation these formats cause much more trouble than they're worth. I am encouraging all the people I work with to think hard about the format of their docouments and to try and ensure that those documents don't lock the message and intent in hard to use document formats. I am also encouraging them to encourage others to create better documents. It is also a challenge for me because I have to create systems that either convert all those formats to something usable or create systems that allow them to create better documents in the begining.

Dan made the point that PDFs are "good enough" and that maybe true. My point was that they are not what I (IMHO) would consider "best practice".

Again I apologize if my criticism offended. I just think usability counts.


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Linking to PDFs: Not the Best of Form | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 editorial, 0 pending) | Post A Comment
Welcome to the group! :) (none / 0) (#1)
by dchud on Sun Oct 19th, 2003 at 11:36:11 AM EST
(User Info) http://curtis.med.yale.edu/dchud

Now that's more like it! Thanks for expanding on your earlier statement, and no offense taken; I'll assume from your post here that that's mutual. :)

Couldn't agree more that usability counts; in large part, that Nielsen piece is dead on, and I try to encourage a message similar to yours around the folks I work with. This is a difficult problem, and even though efforts like the proposed Global Format Registry project (is there a link somewhere?) will go a long way to identifying formats, your point about locking message and intent is also dead on. I didn't intend to state that "PDFs are 'good enough'" in general, but rather that Mark's linked PDF was good enough for its specific intended purpose, which seemed a positive message and a pat on the back for everybody who hangs out here.

Of course, we could have a lovely debate over whether HTML is really any better... ;) -dchud

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PDFs and formatting (none / 0) (#5)
by art on Mon Oct 20th, 2003 at 01:27:10 PM EST
(User Info) http://www.uwindsor.ca/library/leddy/people/art

There are some people who request PDFs of our library web pages so I wonder if there's a cut-off point where people want to print content, and stray towards PDF as a result. I always liked the way that IBM developerWorks presents articles, like this. It's a nice HTML presentation and makes PDF easily available if preferred. Both formats can be abused, and sometimes, like with a lot of IETF specs, for example this, the paging is really important and is a royal pain to reconstruct, so PDF would be helpful for helping with the page references. Maybe this is all yet another argument for stylesheets, someone with a WAP device, for example, is going to have different preferences than any of the rest.

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link warnings (none / 0) (#6)
by blisspix on Mon Oct 20th, 2003 at 07:34:18 PM EST
(User Info) http://www.blisspix.net

I can forgive PDFs if the material cannot be reproduced in HTML or if the source is a report or article, as it was in this case.

However, what I can't forgive is when people don't put either a title="" ref or note after the link to say that the link goes to a non-HTML/PHP/GIF/JPG etc object. Any file which will open either a plugin or new application should have this note.

PDFs can be excused, and I often prefer to use them on databases, but Word/PPT cannot. I don't think I've ever run across an instance of these files that really needed to be in those formats.

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PDF for Control (none / 0) (#7)
by kcoyle on Sat Oct 25th, 2003 at 11:13:43 AM EST
(User Info) http://www.kcoyle.net

Publishers, and others who see their content as their "product," use PDF as a form of control. First, PDF retains the "look and feel" that is a good part of the product identity. If someone does pass along your PDF file, you want it to be clear that it came from your magazine/website/etc.

They also use PDF for a kind of crude but default change control. Everyone has a text editor on their machine and can easily edit an HTML file to, say, remove the original author's name and put some else's name in its place. Or add some text that could serve to discredit the author. While there are programs that can edit PDF, they are less common. You can also use a version of the PDF creator that adds DRM to the file. So PDF has become a kind of default for commercial and professional publishing. HTML is fine for those of us who are still giving away our ideas ;-).

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PDF Linking (none / 0) (#8)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Dec 26th, 2003 at 03:57:20 PM EST

I also can't stand it that search engines scan PDF documents. I accidentally click on the link and it puts my computer out of commission for about 5 minutes.

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accidentally click on the (none / 0) (#9)
by Anonymous Hero on Tue Jan 4th, 2005 at 04:28:40 AM EST

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Linking to PDFs: Not the Best of Form | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 editorial, 0 pending) | Post A Comment
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