Taking stock of docstoc

I’ve spent some time browsing around on docstoc, a sort of YouTube for “professional” documents which has just launched in public beta. (Hat tip: Bob Ambrogi)

docstoc is a user generated community for sharing professional documents. Find a vast quantity of high quality legal, business, technology, educational, and creative documents for free. docstoc allows users to upload their documents for all the world to share. In addition, users can store their documents in their own personal online folders for anytime, anywhere access.

It certainly is a very natty service, with all the Web 2.0 features you might wish for and more. But who is it aimed at and how useful will it be?

A service such as YouTube can legitimately and successfully accept uploads from all-comers, target the whole world and rely on user tagging and rating effectively to facilitate access and promote the best. But with many professional documents – legal in particular – we need to know such crucial things as the applicable jurisdiction and the particular circumstances for which each document is drafted. That makes docstoc as it stands of very limited use to the lawyer and somewhat dangerous for the lay user.

The only reasonably detailed critique of docstocs by a lawyer I have so far found is from contract drafstman and regular blogger Ken Adams:

the rating feature seems beside the point, given the countless factors that would determine whether a given contract model is suitable for a given transaction. And the comment feature is far too coarse to be of any real use–the best you could hope for is comments such as “This is a pro-seller form.” …

The situation would have to be grim indeed for you to be rooting around for a [precedent] on docstoc.

At this point, docstoc appear to be much keener on quantity than quality, despite their assertion in the quote above that the documents are “high quality” (how would they know?)

To celebrate the launch, docstoc are giving away an iPod Touch to the user who uploads the most documents each week during November. Way out front in this contest is one Farhan Khan with 22,246 uploads, most of which he inaccurately categorises as legal forms. He seems to have uploaded the entire US Department for Homeland Security and Postal Service stock of forms – and more of similar ilk I’m sure – as well as Hindi jokes and a document which “tells you some interesting stuff about cancer and how to survive a heart attach when you are alone!” (his exclamation mark, not mine).

Despite the somewhat fundamental reservations, I can see that by applying some discipline to ones tagging one could, within docstoc global, create a very usable store of precedents with sufficient authority and categorisation to satisfy even the discerning lawyer. Sure it would be nice to have a dedicated, professionally-moderated, UK legal docstoc, but this wheel has been invented and is here, now, so I’ll give it a whirl soon, uploading some UK legal stuff you can rely on, and get back to you with an update.

3 thoughts on “Taking stock of docstoc

  1. Your thoughts on docstock seem very appropriate. There’s a big picture element missing here, and a limited connection to the document’s purpose, or author authority. Document sharing, especially in the legal space, needs to deliver more context & structure.

    And by comparison, the two big strengths of my work with the JD Supra project have been 1) the legal taxonomy, and 2) the strong connection to content creators – be that a firm or a solo lawyer. The meta content is still very important, and can only increase our opportunity for creative uses.

  2. Yes, I’ve noted JD Supra as one to watch – and have pre-registered. It does, of course, address the fundamental problems docstoc has. Do you know when it’s due to launch?

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