Was it all just a flash in the pan?

As a freelance photographer in my spare time, one of my bug bears is photographers who have websites built in Flash. I am not entirely sure the main reason why I get so irritated by it but perhaps it is because in this day and age it seems necessary.

To be fair, I should probably start by looking at why Flash exists. Back in the dark ages there wasn’t really a code based way to make sites interactive and, dare I say it, ‘fun’. And this was necessary as more and more people began to use the internet as people needed ways to make sites look better and feel more enjoyable as an experience. Flash action scripts provided a way to make things more exciting. It meant that websites could move, be interactive and more lively. It meant that design could push new boundaries as sites could be less image and text based and start to explore interactive experiences such as tools. And another advantage of Flash is that if the plugin is installed then it will work on your browser, removing the need for completely different approaches depending on the browser you are using (well almost). Flash was in its element (if you excuse the pun).

But that in itself is a drawback. Flash is a plugin and therefore not a natural fit for browsers. Plugins require updating and versions get out of date quickly and of course the problem that we now see is that certain modern devices (names Apple) decide not to support the plugin at all and thus put pressure on us as practitioners to find alternatives. So now we get into the nitty gritty of my problem with flash…it is fundamentally flawed in terms of accessibility and more importantly search engines. Because search engine bots are designed to crawl text content anything that is built in flash is largely, if not completely, ignored.

This brings me back to my original point; if a photographer has a website built in flash and puts loads of really good SEO related content in it, so that people in their area looking for photo services can find him, none of that will be discovered by google (save for the URL and page names). That puts the photographer at a distinct disadvantage and anyone looking at the site on a device that doesn’t support Flash, which is increasingly likely in this day and age, won’t see anything at all. The same goes for any other business building a site. A good friend of mine runs a small and growing video production company. When consulting with possible suppliers for a website one quoted him a cheap price to build one in Flash and I immediately steered him away from this. Not least, besides the above, building a site in Flash with custom CMS elements means that should he choose to get someone else to change his website in the future this will make it very difficult and costly. The company were, in essence, trying to tie him in to a long term relationship which wouldn’t have been good for him.

To give Flash its due, it had a purpose and it served that purpose very well. But with the advent and improvement of more modern programming languages such as HTML5 and the improved ability of JavaScript and jQuery libraries there is not much that Flash can offer that these languages cannot achieve. The difference is that these modern languages can be accessible, they can work across devices and they don’t rely on plugins to make them work. There are also plenty of people out there who are skilled in these areas so you don’t need to employ a Flash specialist to create something for you and you can take template libraries as a start point, reducing costs and timescales.

It was very interesting that about a year ago I was present at a presentation by Adobe of one of their products. As a lead in they introduced their full suite of products and services and Flash was conspicuous in its absence from the presentation. Was this a sign that Flash is a thing of the past? I think so. The world is moving fast and very probably towards a world of integrated, cloud based technologies that will present themselves fluidly, responsively, in a number of different contexts and positions. Flash just doesn’t fit with that world. Flash is dead, long live Flexbox (or any other language you fancy!).


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