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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Why PDF-only is a poor choice for web content

  1. PDFs are often used for erroneous business reasons.
    • “People can’t edit it.” The answer to that one is, of course, “YES they can.” There are plenty of editors for PDF documents, and no, locking it for edits will not help. In fact, an HTML document which resides on a server you control is a much more referential document.
    • “We want people to see it in this format, laid out this way”. That’s not how the world works today – people want the content, not your slick use of images.
    • “We’ve got to have the signed document.” No, you just need to put a “/s” after the person’s name. There’s no legal justification (except maybe in response to a FOIA request) for posting a picture of a document as a PDF, just so the signature can be rendered. In fact, it’s a good argument for a security issue, as you can lift the signature from the document.
    • “Policymakers want professional, printable documents.” Feel free to link the PDF from the HTML5 document for printing.
  2. PDFs are a poor choice for Web or intranet content.
    • Yes, they can be made accessible. Adobe has made great strides in this area. But it usually takes much more effort than just making the document an accessible HTML page.
    • People use dozens of different devices, and want to be able to move quickly through your content without switching platforms and applications.
    • Media and researchers need and want searchable documents that can be disseminated and quoted quickly, and are not going to spend the time scanning through a 20-page PDF to find the data they want.
    • Information updates constantly, PDFs are snapshots and must be reengineered and remade accessible to address changes.
  3. PDFs are terrible for mobile users.
    • 40% of the hits on CDC.gov last year were mobile browsers. If you’ve ever tried to read a PDF on a phone, no further commentary is necessary. It’s a nightmare. That is poor communications, and poor public service. Yes, there are mobile PDF readers, but all are clunky, and require moving out of the browser to another, completely different interface.
So—think about using PDFs as a printable option, with having the content available as an accessible HTML page as the “main” option.