Scribd Ditches Flash in Favor of HTML5

Jared Friedman, cofounder and CTO of Scribd–the site that lets anyone upload almost any document and publish it to the Web–was among the last keynote speakers at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco today. And he had big news (teased yesterday on TechCrunch): Scribd is dumping Flash and converting the millions of documents it hosts to HTML5.

I spoke with Friedman today, and he went to pains to emphasize that Scribd isn’t run by Flash haters. He said, for instance, that it’s the best technology for online games–but that it was never designed to display documents, and it shows.

Friedman showed me a demo of a Scribd document in HTML5–a fashion magazine with fancy layouts and lots of photos–and it looked great. Unlike Scribd’s Flash viewer, the HTML5 version takes up the whole browser rather than sitting in a little window, and downloads pages on the fly, so there’s no lengthy pause as you start reading. And because it’s HTML5, it works on the iPhone, the iPad, Android phones, and other mobile gizmos with modern mobile browsers.

Scribd’s HTML5 support is based on three technologies: Scalable Vector Graphics, Canvas, and Web fonts. But Friedman told me that the company has figured out how to get documents to display in nearly all browsers, including Internet Explorer all the way back to version 5.5.

The Flash-to-HTML5 switch is a massive undertaking: Scribd currently has 5,000 servers chugging away at converting the documents its hosts. Friedman told me that the company hopes to have everything converted by the end of the month. For about six months, it’ll deliver both Flash and HTML5 versions. And then it’ll go Flash-free.

In other Scribd news, Friedman also told me that the service is about to introduce compatibility with Google Docs. An option within Scribd will let Docs users import documents and publish them online (something that’s also possible using only Docs itself).

Judging from the demo I saw, the HTML5 changeover is going to make Scribd much more usable and much more useful. You don’t have to have any particular antipathy towards Flash to be excited about HTML5′s potential to make the Web a richer, more compatible, less hassle-prone place.

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