Very much a web 2.0 publishing solution, all the way down to the short, meaningless and easily misspelled name, Issuu creates a very polished online presentation of any PDF file that you upload to it. Documents may include any of the normal content types in a PDF file, which means just about anything you'd see in an on-paper magazine. A neat feature allows you to make alterations to your publications after they've gone online, too, something which is fairly advanced for PDF files.
As a free user, you have to tolerate some advertising, apparently, though running Firefox with AdBlock Plus I haven't seen any myself yet. There are separate solutions for home and business use. And aside from being able to present your file as a virtual publication on the Issuu website, you may also embed Issuu code into your web pages, if you have them, and instead of your visitors having to download your web documents and view them locally, Issuu will embed an application into your website so that they can be viewed directly on the page. Lastly a version of Issuu is also available for the Android cell phone platform but not, at the time of writing, the iPhone, on which Apple are still deliberating. When it does come, it will offer a full-blown publishing platform on your iPhone, as if you really needed any more apps than you already have (always room for another one though).
The online interface is very slick and has now had long enough to mature into a capable and flexible presentation. As a reader you can zoom in and out and move your position on the page with your cursor in a similar way that you would move an offline PDF page around on your screen. You can see thumbnails of all the pages, and choose how you would like the document itself to be presented. It feels like an attempt to meld the features you'd expect in a PDF reader with the extra features you'd find in a comic book (. Cbr,. Cbz) file reader.
Initially I had a major gripe with this presentation, which was wholly unsuitable for my elderly 1024x768 laptop, using the proprietary IBM method of getting around the screen without a mouse or touchpad. It was almost uncontrollable, slow and unwieldy enough to make me feel it was just too much trouble to be worth the effort to load it up. Which in itself took far too long. Then I discovered the "paper view", which is pretty much identical to viewing a PDF page by page, offline. Much, much better. Though again, there was an unacceptable delay of up to half a minute while pages loaded at full quality. This is going to affect users of older machines, in the main, though I suspect there is also going to be a performance hit for netbook users. But it's still a far better way to view the document than the default all-bells-and-whistles version.
This has been voted one of the top 50 websites on the internet, and for the average user it's very slick. It offers businesses, amateurs and complete publishing beginners the opportunity to present their work in a way they couldn't normally afford if they were trying to do it on paper, and it provides them with a venue where their fans can read the publications for free. It's a great way to promote yourself as a writer, photographer or even fashion model, and even high street magazines can use it to post older copies of their products as a way of promoting their titles. I would definitely consider using it myself for a photographic blog that needed some free window dressing.
I will venture the opinion, though, that the benefits of doing it this way over the now old-fashioned simple download and read offline, are not that great if you're able to use a private computer to download files to. Mainly, it's going to save your disk space, which today is so cheap anyway that most users aren't bothered, and it relieves you of the need to create a website of your own, though even there, a blog will suffice and you can have one of those running in a matter of minutes. However, for those stuck with using a public, school or office terminal to which downloads are not permitted, it's the only way to view these files.
So how do you create a PDF file in the first place? Adobe Acrobat is horrendously expensive, you don't even want to look there. Most other PDF applications only view and print, not create. Fortunately though, there are free and open source applications for both Windows and Linux, which work on one of two principles. The first type allows you to convert files you have created in other programs - Photoshop and MS Word, for example - into PDF pages that you can then make into a single multi-page PDF file. The most common alternative is a PDF printer driver, which convinces your computer that it's sending the material to a physical printer, when in fact it's creating a PDF file out of it. Either way is good, and if you Google for "free pdf creator" you should find a few of each quite easily. There are also paid-for but much cheaper alternatives to Adobe which allow you to work directly on a PDF project. Hunt around, and don't buy the first and most expensive one you come across because there's going to be a cheaper and possibly better alternative.
Once you've started to publish yourself and seen the results, you may never look back. The days when publishing was the domain of professional publishing companies to which you would pay large sums of money in the hope of getting a bit back, are long gone. Sorry, guys. You've been out-evolved, or at least, you're on the way. The asteroid is coming. Whether Issuu is going to be the dinosaur-killer, though, I'm not really sure. It feels like an idea which is still clumsier in the execution than it is in the concept.
Oh, yeah... the name really sucks. So far I've misspelled it four times in half an hour. But I guess that's Web 2.0 philosophy for you, though this is a particularly irritating example of it IMO.