Is Flash flash?

I used to have a personal blog on all things web design; I shut it down a few months back and am migrating some of my old posts back. I wrote this blog on 8 April 2008 and whilst I could and probably should give it the same date as when it was published, if I do that, it will never be seen again.

And I think there is something interesting in looking back and observing how web design has evolved so considerably over the years.

Especially as this blog came out before the iPhone and Apple really exploded and killed Flash off in the process.

Here is is:


Is Flash flash?

One of the ever-enduring points of discussion at website sales meetings is Flash; Flash being the technology that allows for rich animation and interactive content on a website.

“I heard that many people don’t have Flash installed?”

“Flash takes too long to download.”

“I really dislike having to click Skip Introduction to get into a website.”

Unfortunately, the perception of Flash is dogged by mistruths, memories of dialup connections of years ago and the continued trend of many organisations to block Flash entirely. And sadly, Flash is often relegated to the “too-hard” basket with reassurances by the web salesperson that the client’s website will definitely not be Flash-based.

It’s sad because Flash really is a great technology and if it is understood and well integrated, it can add very considerable benefit to a website.

Let’s work through the key mistruths:


1. I either build my entire website in Flash or I don’t

Websites can utilise Flash without being – what are coined –Flash websites. While there do exist Flash Websites (websites that are an entirely self-contained Flash file/animation) – and in most circumstances unless you really know what you are doing, these should be avoided – Flash can be integrated as elements on a standard-style website. 


2. Flash is expensive to develop

Flash is more expensive to develop than say flat text and imagery in HTML, though that’s because it is (or should be) so much more than just HTML. The expense is commensurate with the time and effort that goes into building Flash, though conversely, the expense needs to be viewed in-light of the visual and interactive benefit it delivers.


3. I can’t make changes to Flash

This can be the case, though Flash can be entirely Content Managed meaning that changes to text, imagery, animation and really any aspect of the Flash you decide needs to be managed, can be. This does add an additional upfront cost, though balanced by reduced costs down the track. 


4. If people don’t have Flash installed they see nothing

This can be the case, though it certainly doesn’t need to be. Websites can easily be built to mitigate the need to have Flash installed with no-less an experience than the user would otherwise have experienced.


5. Many people don’t have Flash installed

It is true that (larger) organisations block Flash for security reasons, though most computers will have Flash installed if they are allowed to do so. According to Adobe’s website, approximately 98.5% of computers have Flash installed (though this doesn’t reflect those that have Flash content blocked).


6. Flash means a website introduction

I am not the first to say it nor the last to say it, though introduction Flash-animations to websites (and in fact, anything that gets in the way of the user seeing the homepage) should never – under any conditions – be considered. If you find a reason, think again and until you can dismiss the reason. 


7. Websites with Flash can’t be optimised for Search Engines

It is true that Flash is not indexed (read) by Google, though that is not to say that websites that utilise Flash cannot be as successfully optimised as websites that do not utlise Flash. A good web developer should know how to achieve this without excessive cost. 


Which is not to say that Flash can't suck

Of course, all this is not to say that Flash is without its limitations and it is important that your web developer makes you aware of any issues you are likely to face; the points above are really only to allay the obvious myths that dog poor Flash.

Turning to how you can use Flash, in simple terms, there are three principal applications for Flash.

Firstly, Flash allows for a very rich, fluid animation, combining really any elements including video. Where say a business wants to communicate a complex theme or idea to a user, Flash can easily facilitate this in the most creative of ways.

Secondly, Flash facilitates very-high levels real-time interactivity, allowing users to engage with the website in a level that standard website development and design simply doesn’t allow. Many children’s websites utilise Flash extensively for games and so-forth.

Thirdly and finally, Flash allows for true application-like performance; advanced Flash technologies such as Flex mean that applications as complex as Adobe Photoshop can be properly translated to the web browser.

With Flash, it’s horses for courses. Don’t overuse it or use it for sake of using, though equally, don’t dismiss it because of poor experiences years ago. It really is a fantastic and beneficial technology and pretty much every website should be encouraged to take advantage.