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PDFs are not web pages

April 3rd, 2009 by mdmcginnis

I was going to title this post, “PDFs are evil.” Another writer went even farther, calling his post, “PDFs are evil, lazy, slothful and sinful“. I agree. PDFs may be easy to produce, but they are many times bulkier than a good Web page, and many times harder for me to use.

PDFs try to turn my screen into paper. They were created as electronic paper, but in disregard of the electronic paradigm. And I like the electronic paradigm. I like being able to flip through Web pages faster than I can flip through a book. I like being able to see the whole page at once, instead of having to shrink or enlarge the document to make sense of it. I like being able to hyperlink to other pages, the way science fiction characters instantly travel through hyperspace. Trying to do these things with a PDF document feels like whittling with an axe to me.

PDFs make me wait. I just had a birthday and I’m presumably past the middle of my life, but when I have to print out a PDF file to see if it’s worth printing out, it’s stealing a small part of my few remaining decades. Even if I don’t print it, if I have to download a 1.4 MB file before I know whether it was even worth downloading, when I could have gotten the same information by quickly viewing a properly-designed 40K web page, that’s a major annoyance for me. Even though I have the most powerful desktop computer in my office (a former server), I still find PDF documents that make me wait just to view them. Just to see if they were worth viewing.

Why are PDFs so common on the Web? Because anybody of minimal intelligence can print out a document as a PDF. Even a lazy, inconsiderate person can do that. Which may be why I wonder if webmasters really care about my experience as a user, when they don’t seem to care whether their Web pages are actually Web pages. Do they care about me as an employee, as a potential student, as a potential customer?

Friday, April 3rd, 2009 Web Content
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