If PDF is unfit for human consumption, then what is this?

 | 2 min

If Jakob Nielsen thinks that PDF is unfit for human consumption, what would he make of this ebook website?


Let's go through some of the usability crimes that Jakob says PDF is guilty of, and see how this ebook format stacks up:

  • Linear exposition. You have to flip through this book one page at a time. With a standard website page (or even a PDF document) you can usually at least quickly scroll up and down to jump to places in a document. With this ebook, you can only go through it one page at a time, and each time you have to briefly wait for the 'cute' page turning animation.
  • Jarring user experience. This e-book is a completely different environment with its own completely non-standard controls.

    interaction-net-toolbar.jpgAt least they have tooltips to tell you what the icons mean.

  • Breaks flow. You can say that again! If you are running Firefox, here is what you see when you first come to the site: just a big white empty frame and a message saying you have to download a plugin. Not even a page with an explanation of what the plugin is or does so you can evaluate if it is worth it. And with IE 6, you get all that and a Javascript error too.


  • Orphaned location. There's no standard navigation within these ebooks. The back button doesn't work, and typical navigation cues that people use to tell where they are just aren't present.
  • Content blob. This ebook is definitely a blob. The only internal structure is the pages, no navigation and no search.
  • Text fits the printed page, not a computer screen. Well, that's true of PDF, but this ebook actually fits neither the printed page or the screen. It takes up probably around a quarter of each.

I would add some other crimes to this list as well. The developers of this ebook format say that it is ideal for magazines, catalogues, manuals & brochures, and claim that it allows your content to "look like a book, read like a book and the pages turn just like a real book". However, it eliminates all of the features of real magazines, catalogues, manuals and brochures that makes them so useful: the ability to quickly skim through to get a overview of the contents, the ability to open to any page at will, the ability to mark or hold several pages at once and quickly flick between them to compare things.

If PDF is unfit for human consumption, then you wouldn't even feed this ebook to rats. At least nobody ever used a PDF file as their home page.