1. Alex Manchester

    Hi Joe,

    That is a good list, with some good points and several similar to the above ( (I note that you created the WCAG Samurai list). Your point about blog posts is a little strange as they’re rarely (if ever?) made into PDFs – they’re designed and created to be read on screen.

    This article is less about “authorizing” and more about offering reference points when publishing content [to the intranet].

  2. Alex,
    Can I respectfully disagree? Here’s my take on the ‘cons’ –

    ‘Requires a PDF reader to read’ – every company I’ve worked for in the last 8 years has had Adobe Reader loaded as standard on all company PCs. So what’s the problem?

    ‘Requires a PDF creator to produce’ – Again so what? PDF programmes are relatively cheap and limiting them to certain personnel means that everything will get a look over before publishing which is no bad thing

    ‘Time-consuming to update’ – It isn’t. In fact its usually far quicker than HTML. I’ve received a request to update a large document where the content owner has sent me a Word document and I’ve checked it, turned it into PDF and uploaded it in less than 15 minutes. Try that with HTML when you have pagination and graphics issues.

    ‘Can be unwieldy to open and navigate in a browser if incorrectly produced’ – then produce it correctly

    ‘Can be slow to find what you’re looking for within a PDF’ – Not if internal navigation is done properly plus Adobe allows you to search within a PDF anyway

    ‘Poor copy and paste results to other formats (email, word documents etc)’- Never noticed this but however the work flow is Word into PDF and not the other way around

    Just my 2c worth. I’ve posted on PDFs here


  3. Alex Manchester

    Hi Patrick,

    Appreciate your points and the opportunity to put some more shape around this article.

    I reiterate that I think PDFs are still fantastic for certain uses. Static, standalone policies, graphic-heavy reports, documents etc. remain PDF worthy. For sure. PDFs still have their place. And as your article describes well, if they – along with the rest of your content – are organised and managed correctly, then they are very useful for lots of things. I’m not disputing that.

    What I am saying is the type of content and its format should really be considered beforehand. Using PDFs as a default is not right, and neither is using HTML all the time.

    Drawing from our experience, I’m also coming at this from the perspective that intranet managers should be aiming, wherever possible, to simplify processes and speed up access to information on the intranet.

    That means being able to locate a page or a summary page, and read he information immediately – without downloading anything or opening up a separate PDF reader or similar application.

    This perspective is also borne out of countless tales of user frustration with their corporate intranet and the glut of information on it (much of which is out of date and dead – and in PDF format); where computer software is a hideously slow and unreliable desktop virtualization environment that crashes or freezes intermittently if you try to open more than a browser and email app at one time.

    Users also hate the experience of downloading half a dozen PDFs before finding the correct one – especially if they’re looking for a one paragraph PDF that really should be just an HTML page.

    I agree with the underlying point in your counter arguments: that PDFs should just be produced correctly, that the right software be in place, that content be managed and owned so well that all updating a document requires is the original author send you it and you correct and republish.

    But that’s a very smooth, well-oiled intranet, IT infrastructure and publishing system.

    Instead, you often have original authors that have left or moved and the original Word document is nowhere to be found. You have a situation where content is already duplicated in several different places… It’s not always straightforward

    Even then, when all said and done, you’re still asking users to download, check and read information in a format that’s not primarily intended for displaying on screen.

  4. Hi Alex,

    Interesting post and comment thread.

    Overuse of PDFs is certainly an issue with our intranet – unnecessary clicking, unnecessary delay as another application launches, and unnecessary mental gymnastics as staff have to shift from IE-mode to Acrobat-mode. (And don’t try to tell me that embedding the Acrobat toolbar in IE removes that.) And these are in addition to the ‘cons’ you’ve raised.

    Our future is to use HTML (via a simple publishing mechanism) as the default and PDFs will be the exception. But there’s a mountain of habit to conquer before we realise that dream.

    Thanks for the article.


  5. Sanjay Morzaria

    No one seems to have commented on the most obvious reason to have HTML as the default over and above pdf’s – accessibilty. apart from being a legal requirement in most countries, it actually makes your page more usable.

    Let’s move away from the lazy option of pdf and make more effort to get things right.

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Published June 30, 2009

Alex Manchester
Alex Manchester is an alumni of Step Two Designs. He specialises in intranet and enterprise social network research strategy and user experience design. Alex works with a wide range of public and private sector organisations and has over eight years experience in this field.