Tag Archives: scribd

Meanwhile, A.nnotate puts all MPs expense PDFs online for free annotation

On the day that Parliament released MPs’ expenses in their ‘official’ form, I was hawking around on Twitter trying to find a good way to crowdsource analysis of the documents (this was before The Guardian’s crowdsourcing tool went live).

Central to the problem was that the expenses were presented in search-unfriendly PDFs. So I was looking for a place people could upload those PDFs and post comments, tag and annotate them.

Scribd was the obvious option: you can comment and tag – but not annotate. After a number of responses on Twitter (in particular Jen Michaels’ suggestions and Marcelo Soares, who had converted Brazilian parliamentary salaries from PDF to Excel with Able2Extract), I had one from Fred Howell of A.nnotate.

A.nnotate was indeed an ideal candidate – however, the website charges for use, which made it redundant for crowdsourcing purposes. But I was feeling cheeky…

“Perhaps you could let users do #mpexpenses for free as a great bit of PR?” I asked.

Fred saw the potential. Within a couple of hours he had twittered back:

“Put a list of all #mpexpenses pdfs for free shared online annotation at : http://a.nnotate.com/beta/mpexpenses/

So credit to Fred – and the power of Twitter. Had The Guardian not created their tool, we had hacked together our own platform within hours – and there lies lesson #1: the power of the web to enable people to mobilise very quickly. It also brought to mind something I said to a group of people at an event the same day: don’t obsess with the tools – the networks are more important: because through the networks you should be able to find someone who knows the tools, or how to use them.

The Guardian meant Fred’s efforts were – this week – to no avail. But in the longer term, I know who to turn to if I need a bunch of PDFs annotated – as will anyone else who saw those tweets. And anyone reading this blog post will know about A.nnotate too. So there is lesson #2: it wasn’t the PR of ‘delivering a message’ but simply ‘doing a good turn’, which in social media is the best PR there is.

But I still wish there was a free online PDF upload service that did annotation.

Something for the weekend #7: sharing documents on Scribd

This weekend’s plaything is Scribd, a document sharing website. If you have a PDF, Word doc, spreadsheet, powerpoint, image or open office doc – for example, annual reports, raw material, etc. – this is a good place to put it to make it both interactive and conversational.

A quick look at the tag cloud reveals some useful sources too, including the environmental protection agency, NASA, food and drug agency and so on (it is currently, as you’d expect, very US dominated). Continue reading