Scribd Debuts Float, A Netflix-Style Competitor To Pulse, Flipboard, Instapaper

Document-sharing service Scribd, the world’s largest social publishing site with more than 75 million monthly readers, launches an iPhone and web content-reading app. Will its UI and design help it compete in a crowded field?

Float app


Today, document-sharing service Scribd, the world’s largest social publishing site with more than 75 million monthly readers, launched Float, an iPhone and web content-reading app that’s taking aim at the likes of Pulse, Flipboard, and Instapaper. Like those popular apps, Float enables users to read content from a varity of sources–such as Float’s 150 publishing partners, which include AP, Scientific America, and yes, Fast Company–and access the content in one centralized reading platform.

In such a cluttered landscape, especially with already popular apps like Pulse and Flipboard boasting millions of users, Float hopes to differentiate itself through its slick UI and innovative business model.

“We spent the last six months working on what we think is the world’s best reading app,” says co-founder and CEO Trip Adler. “We took a look at the whole reading landscape–there’s actually a lot of activity in the space: apps for bookmarking content, apps for browsing content, apps for reading documents, books, and magazines. We took a look at the whole landscape, and thought about how it was broken, and how we could tie a lot of these features together.”

In that sense, Float aims to pull in the best features of all its competitors. Like Instapaper, Float has a save-for-later feature that lets users bookmark content for later consumption. Like Flipboard, Float boasts social sharing and recommendations with friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter. And like Pulse, Float enables users to pick and choose from tons of publishers, to organize your reading list based on your interests.


Float’s design is especially excellent. Central to its UI is the idea of “floating text,” a term Scribd uses to describe how content can be read any number of ways. Rather than limit reading to scrolling up and down–which can be quite a headache on an iPhone–users can also scroll left to right on text, and Float will divide up the pages automatically as if you were leafing through a book or magazine. What’s more, the app has very slick pinch-to-zoom capabilities, allowing users to magnify text that auto-wraps, even if in the form of a PDF. And in case your eyes tire, Float also features various reading modes, from nighttime and sunlight reading to newspaper style, to funny modes like DOS.

“We wanted to strip out all the clutter on the page, and give you a really clean reading experience,” Adler says.

At launch, the service will be free, but Scribd’s true innovation could come later in the fall, when it plans to launch a premium subscription service that Adler calls “the Netflix of reading.” Float will attempt to bring over its publishing partners’ existing business models–offering advertising later this year–but through its premium service, Float hopes to become a one-stop-shop for all your content. “Rather than having to go to all these different paywalls and pay individually, you just pay once and get access to everything,” Adler says.

And if that’s not enough, Adler adds that Float, in the longer term, plans to offer personalized content, similar to Zite, making Adler’s boast–that Float could be the Netflix of publishing–ever more possible.

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About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.