Flash on a website?


Mon Feb 22 19:53:32 +0000 2010

Should I Flash for a website?

I recently had a coworker ask for articles/rationale for not using Flash for a website. While nothing here is original, the hope is to provide a quick, basic summary of reasons why Flash may not be a good choice for website content. Some issues with Flash:

  1. content is inaccessible. Webpages are written in HTML. Any desktop web browser can show you the underlying HTML source for any page you view online through a ‘View Source’ option in the browser. Search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc) use this text to find keywords and content to index in their databases. The text of an HTML page is what people find when they search for material online. Flash content is binary (1s and 0s) which is inaccessible to search engines, hiding textual content on a website from search engines.

    Content hidden from searchers (the main way users find most sites) is a high downside. For example:

    • Restaurant websites, often entirely in Flash, are especially problematic as the main purpose for visiting or searching such a site is to learn hours of operation and menu items.
    • Slideshows or news articles posted in Flash have no known content to be seen by potential viewers
    • Logos or similar branding done in Flash is not recognized by engines and is not easily reusable
  2. a different paradigm. Flash does not allow users to bookmark ‘pages’ within a Flash movie. This is because they are not actually pages at all, but part of a closed, self-contained movie. This also means a ‘page’ cannot be printed unless an entire printing function is created by the Flash developer.

    Additionally, the UI elements of the browser and common interactions are not the same in Flash as in HTML. Web users benefit from some level of consistency.

  3. a separate platform. Flash costs several hundred dollars and is a different skill set from HTML programming. While there are many competent Flash developers out there, the fact remains that it is a closed system (i.e. not available to public creation or modification, it’s controlled by one company) with a relatively steep learning curve.

    Flash also requires the Flash plugin to work. While this is nearly ubiquitous on computers, the iPhone and iPad do not have Flash, and performance on smart-phones is questionable. HTML is free and easily readable.

  4. often unnecessary. Many of the features that made Flash famous (moving items, basic animations, slideshows, etc) can be duplicated using HTML and JavaScript. This method allows full indexing of content and easier changing because a Flash file does not have to be edited, modified, checked, and added back to the server.

  5. performance intensive. This is mostly true on a Mac, and part of Apple’s rationale for not including it in its popular iPhone and iPod touch. Flash has been a resource drain on the Mac for years. While some web video could be improved with Apple’s cooperation, there is Flash’s poor non-video performance on the Mac.

Numerous other reasons can easily be found from a search on “reasons not to use flash”. If you’d just like to look at one article, consider http://coolrulespronto.wordpress.com/2008/03/04/flash/.

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