PDFstash - A PDF reader built for the web

PDFstash - a PDF reader built for the web

I recently (and quietly) launched PDFstash, a product I'd been building since the middle of last year. I haven't written about that much (outside of twitter) and I wanted to take some time to document my thoughts, goals and aspirations for posterity here.

What is PDFstash? PDFstash is a PDF reader that is built for the web. Ok... what does that mean? A couple of things: access to your library of PDFs from any (modern) browser and synchronized access to meta-data. PDFstash automatically keeps track of your place as you read, lets you bookmark important pages and organize documents into folder. Additionally PDFstash lets you easily import documents from "web" sources such as remote web pages, twitter or email - in addition to dragging and dropping documents from your computer.

Why did I build PDFstash? From a personal standpoint - frustration with existing tools such as Papers that I felt had too much friction for the ways I wanted to use the product. I also want to explore building a class of products tailored at information management, curation and dissemination targeted at professional consumers.

Let's unpack that a bit.

Access - couldn't I just store documents on Dropbox? Yes, you could. There are several problems with this approach, however. First, Dropbox doesn't have any awareness of the documents you open - it treats them as opaque objects - you upload "files" and download "files" that is it. Second, the most common way to sync files with Dropbox is their client. Would you install the Dropbox client on someone else's computer to access your files? Probably not. It is possible to get to files through their web-interface but it can be clunky at times. One way to think of PDFstash is like a Kindle, but without having to buy the hardware

Imports - it should be easy to import documents from the place you naturally interact with/discover them. If you follow someone on twitter who tweets a link to an interesting PDF, you can import it by including the link in an @mention to the PDFstash twitter bot. If you receive an email with a document you want to have in your account, simply forward that email to the PDFstash email import service (inbound .at. inbox.pdfstash.com). If you come across a page containing links to PDFs, for example the homepage of a graduate student or researcher, you can simply copy-and-paste that URL into the "import from web" function and PDFstash will crawl that page in real-time and present a list of found PDFs for you to import.


What's on the PDFstash roadmap? Two big areas I would like to explore are mobile and collaboration. Currently, PDFstash works in the browser - but I'd like to bridge the desktop-mobile gap with native clients for iOS (and eventually Android). Collaboration and creating network effects around information sharing are also something I spend a lot of time thinking about. It is common for people in organizations to distill information by giving presentations or sending out short emails - and in the future I'm hoping PDFstash will be another way groups can synthesize and share information.