A Review of Scribd’s Subscription eBook Service

Photo of a Hallway with Bookshelves Against One Wall and Lights Hanging from Ceiling

Introduction

[ This review replaces an earlier and much more positive review I had written about Scribd. 🙁 ]

I love books! I frequent libraries and bookstores and love the books I keep on our shelves at home. I’m also a big fan of subscription services and have been using some of them since their earliest days (Netflix, Dollar Shave Club). So when you offer me (e)books in a subscription format I’m eager to give it a try.

In the past I’ve subscribed to Amazon Kindle Unlimited (at least twice) but found that while the collection is huge the quality is lacking. Sure, there are tons of good books, but for every good book there seems to be a dozen worthless ones. I just haven’t had good luck finding books I wanted to read with Kindle Unlimited.

NOTE: I read almost exclusively nonfiction, so for those looking for fiction volumes, Kindle Unlimited may be a good choice, I just can’t speak from personal experience!

The Good

Where Scribd hits it out of the ballpark for me is in the quality and number of books on topics I’m interested in. For example, their religion/theology section is AWESOME.

And from a cursory glance Scribd seems to hit most of the core functionality needed in an ebook service:

  • Accessible via the web.
  • Dedicated mobile app.
  • Create lists of ebooks.
  • Create highlights and notes.
  • Remember last page read.
  • Robust search.
  • Browsable library.

In addition Scribd offers access to a significant library of audio books and magazines and while not my primary concern, this is certainly a nice feature!

The Bad

Unfortunately, as I’ve spent more time with Scribd, I’ve found the service has a few really significant faults. While I’m still subscribed at the moment I’m planning to cancel soon. I hope they’ll rectify these issues in the near future and I’ll be happy to resubscribe. It is a service with so much potential!

Lists That Forget

I love making lists – so I make lists of books I want to read. I began doing so on Scribd but ran into a problem. When I hit ~500 books on my lists, Scribd begins silently dropping the books I added first to the list! There is no warning, it just happens.

I’ve confirmed with Scribd that this is the service functioning as expected and while they are considering changing this, I haven’t seen any change in the months I’ve been using the service nor have I heard that there are definite intentions to do so.

Highlighting Limitations

If you need to highlight text on a single page things work well but if you want to highlight across multiple pages to create a single continuous highlight you can’t. You have to create multiple highlights. This is basic functionality included with Amazon’s Kindle and something I’ve come to expect, its lack is quite frustrating…though if this was the only problem with highlighting, I’d make do.

To the above you can add issues with memory utilization on mobile. If you make multiple highlights using the Scribd app it becomes progressively slower and more difficult to highlight. Exiting the app and reopening it resolves this issue, but this occurs fairly quickly and if you are doing highlighting with any frequency you will be closing and reopening the app regularly.

Perhaps I could live with both of these, but when combined with a third issue – the inability to see highlights/notes in a single place – I’m just not willing to deal with that many problems (and with such basic functionality)!

Goodbye Highlights/Notes When Book Expires

Highlights/notes seem to be tied specifically to each volume, so when a book is removed from the service one loses all the highlights/notes associated with the book. This is absolutely unacceptable.

In addition, I am concerned about whether Scribd also silently deletes highlights/notes after some magical number as it does with saved lists. Are highlights/notes being silently deleted as I make new ones?

There are some services such as Suprada Urval’s Exifile which allow you to export notes/highlights and I’m incredibly thankful for Suprada creating such a utility, but even this utility requires us to go into each book we have highlights/notes to perform an export. This isn’t Suprada’s fault, its part of the limitations of Scribd mentioned above.

Is It Worth It?

I was quite excited about Scribd when it was first released, but I’m pretty disappointed now. Depending on the sort of reader you are, Scribd may still be a good choice – for me though it has fatal flaws. I’m hoping Scribd will resolve these issues and I’ll be able to write a glowing review in the near future.

What do you think? Do you use Scribd? Have you found another subscription service you prefer?

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Zoho Mail and Its Limitations For Free Accounts

Screenshot of Zoho Mail

There once was a company called AdventNet that created IT software – network monitoring, help desk ticketing, etc. Eventually they started this fledgling division called Zoho which seemed to me (at the time) like a distraction from their IT business. But Zoho grew and grew and eventually AdventNet changed its name to Zoho. Zoho still makes a line of IT software, but it is their Zoho Suite that more people are familiar with.

Screenshot of Zoho Mail

I’ve always liked their software, though sometimes it has been a bit rough around the edges. Part of this is because they usually offer free versions with a fairly robust featureset for those who only need a few users or to monitor a few systems.

In general I haven’t found these limitations to be too much of a nuisance, but I recently started using Zoho Mail and have been frustrated by the number of features which are only available in their paid version. Granted, the paid version isn’t bad – $28/yr. per user – but it isn’t what I’ve come to expect from Zoho.

I figured it would be helpful for others who are considering Zoho Mail as a solution for their needs to have a concise list of some of the more notable of these limitations…as the 25 free users offer is quite attractive at first glance. Without further ado, here is my list of functionality not available in the free version:

  • Mail Forwarding – Want to setup an email address [email protected] and forward it to [email protected]? You can’t on a free account. (Granted, you can create an email alias for an account).
  • POP/IMAP/ActiveSync – These are all methods of retrieving mail from Zoho’s server and are used by email client software like Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, or Mailbird. (Zoho does have a robust web interface, similar in functionality to Gmail’s, so this is only a deal breaker if you use a software email client).
  • Email Routing – Want to have emails sent to [email protected] routed to a third party helpdesk like Zendesk or Freshdesk? You can’t, it’s a premium feature. (That said, you can probably setup these and other services to access the account automatically and pull the emails).

Besides these limitations, Zoho Mail seems full-featured, the user interface is quite nice, and one can customize things with one’s custom domain rather than having @zohomail.com emails.

What alternatives do you have? At the price of free I’m not aware of many with any robust implementation. I’m luckily enough to be grandfathered into a G Suite account from back in the day when Google was still handing them out for free. 🙂

The only other completely free solution I’m aware of (at least for a few users) that offers similar functionality to Zoho Mail (e.g., custom domain email rather than @provider.com email) is Bitrix24, but I’ve never personally used them (interestingly, they also have a decent suite of applications and offer a free phone number as well – though it doesn’t appear to come with any minutes, but per minute pricing is cheap). Do you have suggestions for alternatives?

If we look at paid alternatives things begin to open up a bit for us we can add Google Suite, Microsoft Office 365, Rackspace, and so on to the list. Yet Zoho Mail’s prices still seem to be among the best.

Its also worth noting that most web hosts I’ve used (e.g. Bluehost, SiteGround) offer free email hosting as well. These services tend to be fairly full-featured but really lacking in the UI department.

Finding the Best Medical Professionals Using the Internet in Six Steps

Image of Medical Professionals Research Spreadsheet

Introduction

This topic is close to my heart. There are those I love who really really need to get medical attention but have been frustrated by the ineptitude of some medical professionals. I’m writing this for you – yes, I really mean you! Pretty Please???

I’m also writing this to you, passing traveler on the information highway, because I want to see you find the medical care you need as well. I know you may be frustrated by multiple negative experiences, but I hope you’ll try using the method I outline below – I have been repeatedly satisfied with the results.

1. Finding Medical Professionals Covered By Your Health Insurance

The first step is to pull up your health insurance website and find the directory of providers covered by your insurance.[1] Here are links to those directories of providers on several of the largest health care insurer’s websites:

To get accurate results you’ll need to enter information about the health insurance plan you have (see your health insurance card) as well as the geographical locale in which you live. You should see a list of providers once you have provided the necessary information. Found it? Great!

2. Creating a List of Medical Professionals

Your next step is to create a list of medical professionals covering the sort of care you require. At this point I recommend creating the list without concern for who will be best or worst – instead, look at how close they are geographically to where you live.

I find that it’s best to add all of these individuals to a spreadsheet, and I’d recommend using Microsoft Excel,[3] Google Sheets, or AirTable. I’ve created a list provider spreadsheet template/example you can use.

Image of Medical Professionals Research Spreadsheet

In the first row you can place your column headings, which describes what will go in that part of the listing. I recommend starting with Provider Name, Distance (from your location), and Location (city).

Once all of the potential medical providers are listed in the spreadsheet, we are ready to move on to the next step…

3. Adding Health Professional Reviews to Your Spreadsheet

The next step is to go to a search engine (Google and Bing both work well) and to type in the title and then name of one of the providers followed by the city they are located in. This helps ensure that you get results for the correct practitioner – oftentimes multiple providers share the same name – even unusual ones!

In the image below you can see the results I received when entering “dr michael looney delmar” into Google. Notice how there are stars next to some of the results? These are the ratings the people on these review sites have given Dr. Looney–just like a product review on Amazon! You can visit the sites to see more details, but usually what we need is available right on the search results page. We are looking for the name of the review site, the rating the provider received, and the number of reviews the average is based on.

Image of Google Search Results

Now the spreadsheet you’ve created will need additional columns- two for each health review site we want to use. I have found the following to be among the most helpful review sites:

  • Healthgrades
  • Vitals 
  • Zocdoc – The nice thing about this one is that you can set up appointments through the web and there tend to be numerous reviews for doctors who participate in Zocdoc.
  • RateMDs
  • UCompareHealthCare
  • Wellness
  • PatientFusion – Good resource, but reviews seem to be largely limited to practitioners who use PatientFusion.
  • WebMD – They got into the game quite late, and while I expect them to continue to grow in quality, it’s hit or miss whether there are reviews of any given practitioner.

Here is a screenshot of the example spreadsheet I mentioned previously:

Image of Medical Professionals Research Spreadsheet

Note what I’ve done:

  1. I’ve shrunk the size of each column relating to the review sites as small as I can. This allows us to see all/most of the relevant rating info at once instead of needing to scroll right and left.
  2. I’ve shrunk the names to fit within the columns by using an abbreviation.
  3. I’ve created a column on the far left that explains the abbreviations I’ve used, for example, HG means HealthGrades.
  4. For each review listed on the Google Search results, I added the rating to the first column for that review site and then the number of reviews to the second column for the same review site.
  5. I also created another column that covers sites that I’ve found don’t usually have reviews of practitioners, but when they do can be a helpful source of information – in this case Facebook and Yelp.

I usually look at the first 2-3 pages of results to see what review sites/ratings show up. You’ll note that a number of the review sites columns are empty – this is because the review site/rating did not appear in the search results I’m seeing. That is perfectly okay!

You’ll then repeat this process for each provider on your list.

4. Picking the Best Medical Providers from Our Spreadsheet

Once we have our spreadsheet filled in we can begin to analyze the list of providers. Look for those with the highest scores across the most sites and from the most people. Soon you should have a few stand-out choices. If you don’t come up with any good choices, you can go back to the health insurance site and look at other providers further away. I know that isn’t what you want, and in most cases you shouldn’t need to, but it does happen sometimes – especially if you live in rural areas.

A couple tips on choosing the best providers:

  • I like to bold scores / number of reviews that are particularly high, this helps certain providers to stand out – especially if they have good reviews across several sites.
  • I like to italicize reviews that are particularly low, especially if they come from a high number of reviews. Again, the providers who have consistently poor scores across sites should begin to stick out as well.
  • While searching you may notice news articles or other helpful sites outside of review sites about a given provider, these can be of significant value.
  • Because you are looking at the consistently highest rated providers you may run into a few who have full schedules or for some other reason can’t see you, that’s okay, just move to the next person on your list.

5. Additional Things to Consider When Choosing Healthcare Providers

  • Don’t abandon the tried and true ways of finding a provider – talking to friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors! Their advice can be golden and you can then validate their recommendations by adding them to your list. You may find there is significant overlap between who people local to you recommend and who seems the best based on online reviews.
  • Don’t forget to talk to any medical providers you currently have that you do like. They are often more than willing to make referrals to other providers who can meet your needs. Once again, you can validate the recommendations by adding them to the spreadsheet and comparing them to the providers you have looked at on your own. Hopefully you’ll see significant overlap!
  • Remember that we humans tend to review services we feel strongly about – positively or negatively. Just because a doctor has some bad reviews doesn’t mean they are a bad provider overall. This is why I recommend looking across multiple review sites. In general, the more data you have, the more accurate the results (which providers are best) will be.
  • In my experience, some professions have generally lower scores than other professions. For example, you may find pediatricians who have 5 stars on multiple sites from multiple reviewers, whereas for psychiatrists or oncologists you might find that the highest scores are 4’s. There are various reasons for this, one being that some professions deal with more intractable problems than others.
  • Just because the reviews say so, doesn’t mean the medical provider is perfect or infallible. Use your own best discernment to determine whether the provider is a good fit for you.
  • Some really good practitioners are eccentric or abrasive. You have to decide if their particular type of eccentricity / abrasiveness is something you are comfortable with. For me, I don’t mind a practitioner who lacks social graces and is a bit abrupt at times, but this may not work for you – and that is okay.

6. Getting the Care You Need at the Appointment

Some medical professionals will walk you through the care process from beginning to end. Others will do so only if you specifically point out to them the issue you are having. Yet others will be effective in their particular niche but won’t provide any sort of overall support when multiple providers are involved. I think all of these types of providers can be good providers – but the way you approach them needs to be different. Don’t assume that the doctor knows what you need or want, tell them the information you believe is relevant (try to be as concise and specific as possible).

If the provider recommends a medication or treatment and there is another you’d prefer, tell them so, and ask them if that would be okay or if there are specific reasons they are recommending one course of treatment over another. Providers oftentimes have a “go to” treatment/medication that they have seen success with, but if you mention another treatment of equal quality, they’ll oftentimes be willing to start you off on that medication/treatment.

Don’t be afraid to leave a provider that you feel is not meeting your needs, or who is not willing to work with you to get those needs met in some practical way–even if other people have had a good experience with that provider. Sometimes things just don’t work out, and that’s okay–but it shouldn’t hold you back from receiving the care you deserve.

Your Thoughts?!

What are your thoughts on this article and process? How do you find quality medical care providers? Is there anything unclear in the article? I look forward to your feedback!

  1. [1]If you don’t know the website of your healthcare provider type it into a search engine like Google or DuckDuckGo and it should appear in the results.
  2. [2]Requires you to login to your online account. Come on UHC!
  3. [3]If you don’t have a copy of Excel available, you can use the free online version.