Scribd: A multi-format document repository

I’ve just come across Scribd – a web-based repository, which allows anyone to upload their documents for free.  I suppose it’s a bit like YouTube for documents, but the great thing about it is that you get several formats for the price of one.

All it needs is a document in a Word, PFD, text, PowerPoint, Excel, PostScript or LIT format, which it will then display in a web browser using Scribd’s custom Flash player (seems to be Macromedia’s FlashPaper format).  The clever part is that Scribd will then automatically convert your document into a PDF, Word, and Text file – and MP3 format!  The application obviously uses some sort of text-to-speech software, but the great thing about Scribd is that it automatically provides so many formats from just one upload.

The only drawback I’ve found so far is that I can’t seem to tab through to the links for the alternative versions, but the site was only launched last month, so perhaps they’ll fix that soon.  Oh – and it only works in IE.  It is available via Firefox and conversely, you can tab through to the download links but not actually see result inline.  Typical!  However, that aside, it’s a great idea – now all we need is something that automatically provide transcripts for podcasts, and something which will caption and describe videos.   I’m not even going to mention actually producing accessible content – that’s for another day!

Adding Value: Providing Transcripts for Podcasts

I’ve just listened to a podcast by EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information) on RSS/Podcast Basics.  As well as covering the basics of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds and podcasting, it also briefly touched on podcast accessibility.

Podcasting can consist of either audio or audio and voice (video).  Both Section 508 and the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) recommend that alternatives are available for auditory and visual content – e.g. a transcript for an audio podcast; captions and/or transcript (and possibly a description of the video, depending on its format) for a video podcast (this could take the form of a presentation with voice-over or an actual video).

Podcasts can be of particular value to people with visual disabilities or physical disabilities, and people who want to learn on the run, such as travelling into work on the bus, exercising, waiting for a train, etc.  However, including a transcript of a podcast, particularly in the educational environment, will not just benefit people with hearing impairments but it can also benefit all students. 

One example given in the EASI podcast was of lecturers making their lectures available as a podcast for students to download.  The presenter suggested that students would probably only want to listen to a podcasted lecture once (or twice, if they had a high boredom threshold) and that, as in a normal lecture room situation, the student would make notes as they went along.  However, if a transcript was provided of the podcast, the student could print it off (as well as listen to the podcast) and make notes in the margin.  The transcript and annotations could easily be carried around and used as a useful revision resource at exam time.

Another problem is that it’s not always easy to find one’s way around a podcast – there are no headings or marker points (although maybe this will come in time) as in a large document – so the listener is forced listen to the podcast all the way through in order to find the relevant bits.  Providing a transcript alongside the podcast allows for easy navigation, it can printed by a Braille machine, and allows for annotation by the student.

Although there are obviously the cost benefits of writing a transcript, providing an electronic resource in two different formats could greatly increase the value of that resource and will benefit a greater number of students.