Today, I’ll trade my soapbox in for a stump and go all Lorax on everyone. If there’s one thing—okay, there’s probably more than one, but this one is definitely on my short list—that can make me rant, it’s the use and abuse of paper—and its cousins, the email attachment and the file download. Internally it’s the agendas we print out for everyone even though we’ve emailed it to everyone as an attachment so that it not only takes shared drive space, it takes space on every user’s machine, their backups, and now their physical desk space and ultimately their trash. Externally, it’s all the document that could have been a Web page, but some prospective student or current commuter student obtain a paper copy or download it, print it, complete it, and mail it.
Paper has its limitations. It’s not searchable. I can’t back up this information easily. If I want to update what’s stored on paper I can’t do it from a single location. As an employee, it frustrates me to see my desk get swallowed up by paper. As a parent with a school-aged child, it frustrated me to get information that is only available on paper. Sure some of the documents are out there as PDF, but half the time I need to download all the school’s documents before I figure out they don’t have what I need.
This week I once again had a wrestling match with our copier at work and nearly tore its toner cartridge out like guy who tore out hearts in Temple of Doom (except that I remembered that the last time I tried the copier won) and the paper cutter slashed my finger in protest to my impatience. (It
wantsed me to get stitches. I refuse to let another inanimate object win.) In my not-so-successful battle against paper, I give you my Lorax Guide the Paperless Web…
Check your print style sheet. If your site has a good print style sheet any page becomes printable. Thus, anything you want to distribute can become a searchable, printable, Web page. No more annoying people with pesky downloads that they have to collect until they find the correct one. No more hoping they have the application to open the file.
Use the Web unless you have a good reason not to do so. Consider a group’s Web site, Intranet site, wiki space, etc. to place an agendas, meeting minutes, and other shared materials rather than distributing (and redistributing) attachments and printing copies. Members can print copies as needed. They are also able to access the most recent version this way.
Really, really avoid making everything a PDF download. However there are cases, like with brochures, where you need to use PDF make the appearance of your print content is exact. Think about the documents that used to be on the Web in other formats. If a form doesn’t require a signature, there’s a good chance it doesn’t need to be a PDF. Create a web form; save trees and hassl
Make downloadable content managable for you and for visitors. Don’t put yourself in the position of maintaining two versions of the same content. If you have several documents that you’d like available as both HTML and PDF, you could use XLST to transform your content into both forms.
For documents that must remain in other formats, supply enough metadata (including a brief description with some keywords about the document) that visitors do not have to download every single item on your site umtil the find what they need.