Please stop using PDF files at web sites

This is a rant asking web designers to stop using PDF files on web sites. The subject doesn’t really belong on this blog, so I will hide it in the next pane.

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It’s understandable.

You have worked hard to produce a fabulous looking document in UnbelievableCreativity™. It combines unusual fonts and graphics with the perfect layout. And you know that if other people could see it they would just love it; so you want to post it at your web site. The trouble is, if you re-create the document in the language of the web, HTML, you would lose those fab fonts and clever design juxtapositions. You are afraid that if folks don’t see it exactly the way you see it now, printed out on your desk, they won’t grasp the concepts and truly value your work.

No problem. A feature of UnbelievableCreativity™ is that it easily saves your masterpiece to PDF. Poof, it is done.

And now you can upload that lovely file to your web site. Easy-peasy. The job is done, and you are free to go and spend some quality time with your loved ones.

The trouble happens later, when someone — like me — is mistakenly attracted to your site.

You do want to attract people to your your site, don’t you? That’s usually why you put stuff on the web in the first place. And I know you care that people come to your site because you check the number of hits almost every day and your spirits rise and fall with your PageRank™.

Well, you have some success, and for whatever reason, I’ve found my way to your site.

About me: I pride myself on finding stuff that is out there, and quickly. Back when I was writing planetarium shows (long before the World Wide Web), I loved to uncover morsels that would make the program sparkle. There is a lot of information out there and most of it is devoid of sparkle. The trick was to scan FAST and to have ways to select only the good stuff. Like panning for gold. Lots of sand, but the tiny flashes make the process worthwhile.

The web is wonderful, and the search engines are so sophisticated that there is a very high ratio of gold to sand.

But I am still moving through the data as fast as I can.

Until I come to your wretched site. I clicked your file because the topic looked vaguely interesting. I won’t know until I see your page. If it is as wonderful for me as you hope, we will both be delighted; but the odds are it is just more sand in my pan and I probably won’t even spend whole seconds with one page.

Suddenly my whole process is frozen and this appears…

Stop Everything It Is A PDF

Now, sometimes I really want a PDF file. They have their place. Say you are designing something that is to be printed. PDF helps to ensure that the company that does the printing produces something fairly close to your intentions. So, I do need to have the capacity to save those pages.

But, PDF should not be there on your web site without big warnings to keep people like me from accidently downloading just because I was fascinated by the title.

And if you want a browser merely to view the document on your web site, please learn how to create lean, fast, engaging web pages… and don’t post it as PDF.

Do you think that by slowing me down with this teeth-grinding PDF process I an going to settle in and study your masterpiece? Not likely. I’m annoyed and your file is trashed before it is completely downloaded.

Of course, I can set my browser so I can view, and not download the PDF files there. That PDF file will still load slowly, and I will not wait.

Since you have shown so little regard for me as an invited visitor to your site, the only way that I can punish you is to ignore you and your site forever. I am gone, and if I do remember you and your site, I will not be back.

Whew, thank-you for letting me get that off my chest.

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2 Responses to “Please stop using PDF files at web sites”


  1. 1 Robert December 4, 2007 at 10:42 am

    I find that I agree with most of what Jakob Neilsen has to say about how to manage an effective web site. His comments on PDF is here:
    PDF: Unfit for Human Consumption

    The title overstates his case. The article is useful reading.

  2. 2 PrezScot December 6, 2007 at 11:17 am

    your “rant” is justified. I didn’t know what caused the grindingly slow download on sites that I came upon, so thanks for clearing up the “pdf” issue (and I’ll be sure, whenever I get around to publishing on the web, probably around the same time I become President of Scotland, that I avoid these pesky hogs).


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