Sharing millions of documents and books with the world is a daunting technological challenge, one we’re solving here at Scribd. Our stack of tools is as varied as the library itself. A reading experience built for iOS, Android, and web browsers of all sizes. To serve those apps: a blend of Ruby and Go services, with information pulled from various caches, search indices, and databases. We use large data sets to run A/B tests, compute recommendations, and train models. It is one thing to curate a large collection, it’s quite another to bring it to the world in an enjoyable and easy-to-use package. “Change the way the world reads”, that’s the challenge ahead of us.
Today we announced a $58 million equity financing round led by Spectrum Equity.
Over the past two years, Scribd has achieved major milestones, including surpassing over one million paying subscribers, introducing localized experiences for international markets, and nearly doubling its employee base. It has expanded its footprint with offices in San Francisco (HQ), New York, Phoenix, Toronto, and Amsterdam.
The future is looking bright, and we have a great opportunity to grow even further in 2020 and beyond. From a technology standpoint, there’s a lot of exciting work planned for Infrastructure, Web, Data Platform and Engineering, Mobile, and a number of other teams.
Scaling infrastructure to serve hundreds of millions of people a year while enabling internal teams to deliver new features safely and efficiently is the fundamental challenge of growing infrastructure at Scribd. The majority of our systems currently run in a managed datacenter, with only a few operating in AWS. When weighed against our goals of immutability, automatability, and self-serviceability this physical datacenter presence doesn’t fit the bill.
The future of our infrastructure, and our applications, is entirely in the cloud. The migration requires shifting workloads between datacenters with a tiny error and downtime budget. At our size, that’s many terabytes of data and thousands of requests per second, which dictates serious upfront planning, automation, testing, and monitoring of every facet of our environment.
Building and maintaining the infrastructure to serve a site the size of scribd.com is difficult to begin with, but moving a something this large from one datacenter to another is its own unique and exciting problem to solve.
In subsequent blog posts we will share more about our AWS migration as we work through it!
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Scribd serves a significant amount of traffic to desktop and mobile web users, for both platforms code size, speed, and aesthetics play a major role in our success. We carefully deliver new features via experiments, also known as A/B tests, giving developers a safe path to validate improvements at our tremendous scale.
Looking forward to 2020, we are going to increase the number, velocity, and diversity of our experiments. To accommodate these new and different experiments, our codebase must be nimble, cohesive, and easy to test. We’re building a strong foundation of re-usable React components, styles, and utilities for use in everyday product development.
As part of our increased shift into AWS, the web team has the opportunity to build and deploy Micro-Frontend-style Single Page Applications. Our current web architecture is fairly monolithic with a React frontend, and a Ruby on Rails backend. We’re trending towards backends composed of microservices, with frontends accessing data via GraphQL.
Improving web applications visited by 300+ million visitors every month requires thoughtful design, development, and deployment; that’s what the web team at Scribd does.
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Data Platform and Engineering
Data is an integral part of building Scribd, whether behavioral, relational, or natural language data, it is all valuable to the organization. Our data platform is in a state of transition: moving away from strictly ETL-style batch processing, towards more stream and real-time processing. Data is no longer solely the domain of the analyst, it is increasingly transformed and pumped back into live applications.
The future of our data platform and data engineering teams revolves around the Real-time Data Platform. An ambitious project aiming to provide a streaming data platform for collecting and acting upon both behavioral data and events in near real-time, enabling immediate reaction to changing user needs by Scribd’s applications.
The underlying question of “how can we improve our applications with real-time data” evokes a number of promising answers, which we will answer in the next 6-12 months.
Our batch processing won’t disappear in the future, but it will get faster and easier to work with. As the size of our library and user base have grown, manually curated and maintained data sets have become a drag. Tools to improve partitioning, compression, and organization of our data are all starting to be deployed in our data platform.
The next 12 months are filled with interesting projects and challenging problems, making now the best time yet to work on our data platform and engineering.
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For many users their portal to literature is their smart phone or tablet, where we strive to give Scribd users the best reading and listening experiences available. We’re quite proud of our Android and iOS apps but we also have plans to dramatically improve their size, platform integration, and performance in the next year.
We already use Swift and Kotlin on their respective platforms, but in 2020 we’re going even further. On iOS we’re writing all new code in Swift, and proactively removing Objective-C code so we can shift as many runtime problems to compile-time as possible. For Android, we’re also writing new code in Kotlin and investing in cleaner architecture patterns which will allow us to adapt more readily to upstream changes in the Android platform.
Our mobile applications allow users to take an enormous library with them wherever they go, and we’re continuing to make Scribd a delight for mobile users.
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The technology work ahead is interesting, challenging, and ambitious but with a global team of extremely talented developers, designers, data scientists, and managers, it is doable. We could always use a few more talented people though!
We are big fans of the written and spoken word here at Scribd, and we’re looking forward to you joining us to build the largest library in history.