It’s interesting that if you type in the keyword ‘Should I use Flash on my web site’ that it pulls up loads of results in Google from way back in 2005 / 2006 and perhaps this is telling in itself – but it’s still an important question that is being asked. Indeed today a client of ours asked if we could incorporate Flash in her current web site or indeed create x2 web sites – one with Flash and the other without. So what’s the draw?
If you’re not aware of what Flash is, it is a framework licensed by Adobe that allows designers/developers to create very rich animations, and interactive experiences that can be integrated into a website. Unlike HTML Flash is largely based on a bundled animation timeline, but it has advanced with it’s native Action Script to allow developers to create some very clever applications. Further to this Flash can indeed create truly immersive sites that engage and wow viewers. So why is it that Flash is becoming less visible and why is it that Flash developers in their droves have moved across to other technologies? The answer is that developing with Flash throws up some fundamental problems that have been largely driven by equally significant chnages in the marketplace.
Within the next couple of years it’s anticipated that more people will be browsing content on their mobile devices than on their PCs or Macs :-). Many mobiles do support Flash this includes Samsung’s new promising Galaxy Tab Android tablet (possible iPad killer), but the bitter fact is that many others do not. Most notably the iPhone and iPad under the stewardship of Steve Jobs still stubbornly refuse to adopt the technology. Many would say that Jobs simply doesn’t like Flash, but I think that would be putting it too simplistically
Flash is often resource hungry
I’ve said ‘often’ resource hungry as it would be fair to say this isn’t always the case, but in most instances this is because Flash is only forming part of the overall web site picture. A complete web site in Flash will invariably need to serve up high levels of content and images and when bundled together this often leads to the dreaded ‘loading’ screen. If like me you are impatient and want to see the info you’re looking for quickly then you have to ask the question as to whether this was an effective way of delivering it. An HTML/XHTML web site could probably do this quicker and more efficienrly.
Pretty isn’t necessarily more effective
I’m often asked by people for my opinion on their web sites and sometimes people don’t like what they hear. This is understandable as often a fair bit of work has gone into them and a site does feel like something of a pet project. The place that may people fall foul is with ‘Design over Substance’ – yes the site looks pretty, but:-
- Does the site reach it’s target audience?
- Is the site intuitive and user friendly – is it easy to navigate?
- Is the site viewable cross-browser and cross device – is it missing anyone?
- Does the site achieve it’s goal? (hopefully you will have identified this well in advance)
If your target is pretty general (as is often the case) then delivering a site in Flash, that takes eons to load, is confusing and perhaps isn’t viewable at all seems like a pretty major mistake to me.
Quality is as important as ever
Many of our clients are photographers and as such they want to display their products (their photos) online in a compelling manner. Now Flash needs to import image content into it’s timeline and this is done directly by embedding or via ActionScript. If done with Action Script this can alleviate some of the strain on loading times, but there is a flip-side in that to increase the speed of the application you have had to compress the image down to a level that shows a viable loss of quality. Granted we often compress our images when using an XHTML format, but the difference is that you can test the quality and know that this is exactly what you user will see. Flash is more unpredictable and after processing the image you may get an increased loss of quality – worse will move the image and expect clunky transitions.
Content is still King
You’ve heard it before, but it’s as important a statement now as it was years ago. A good web site relies upon timely and relevant content for both it’s visitors/users and also the Search Engines.
The Search Engines Drawback
A major draw back with Flash is that it is largely un-indexable by the search engines and this is putting your site at a major competitive disadvantage in comparison to other sites – indeed sometimes these sites are lacking in a visual sense, but effective at getting the message across. The lack of a quality competitor to plug the gap is making their life all too easy.
Updating your content
So if Content is King how do you get that timely content to the masses? With Slick Media you can update your web site on an ad-hoc maintenance basis, with a maintenance agreement or as is now more often the case you update the content yourself with a Content Management System that we have put in place for you.
From my experience of Flash a timeline can get pretty complicated and this is made almost incomprehensible if you are picking up from another developer. So making even simple updates to a polished Flash movie can be problematic. Indeed we’ve been asked on a number of occasions to update a client’s content that was initially created by a third party that is no longer available. It’s in Flash and the original files are not available – ouch! Quick tip: get the original Flash files as otherwise they will most likely need to be created again from scratch.
In the past we circumvented update issues by creating CMS systems with Flash, but now that technology is moving in other directions it seems almost non-sensical. Our new CMS platforms are based on XHTML and CSS, are robust and can be updated in house and also picked up by third parties.
So what’s the Solution?
We believe the direction of the web is largely, but not completely, away from Flash. We expect to see Flash develop as other technologies develop and it may come back to a place where Steve Jobs can no longer continue to ignore it. However right now to create a usable, quick to load, cross-browser/cross-platform and affordable site that does it’s job effortlessly we see AJAX and Java Frameworks such as jQuery as the way forward. These platforms can already mimic what we were used to seeing on Flash web sites and the technology is moving and it’s moving FAST. Expect to see more ‘flashy’ web sites that don’t use Flash at all.
I welcome your comments