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Why Flash sites can be a bad idea

Jun25

Written by:
2009/06/25 11:18 AM RssIcon

image Flash is a powerful web technology that can achieve a very high level of visual impact. This impact is purely visual, from the graphical point of view. Unfortunately, it is widely misused in web design. Flash still has many problems, mostly when it comes to usability and search engine behaviour. We need to properly understand what those problems are before we decide to use Flash for our site.

Flash looks cool, and it's fun, and it’s attractive. Menus can do all sorts of animation, Objects can wave and do some back flips, and fly though hoops for you. But you really have to ask yourself "does this add value to my business?".

Flash is a powerful tool, but like every tool in the Web developer's toolbox, it shouldn't be used to solve every situation. Don’t use a hammer to drive in a screw. Some problems can be solved with Flash, while  others may need a different approach. If you know how to use Flash effectively, you can increase your page views and customers.

What is Flash.

Flash is a vector animation (read about vector animation software) software, originally designed to create animations for display on web pages. Vector graphics are ideal for the web because they are so lightweight. In essence it is a programming type of scripting language. It can be used to create cool graphics, great and fantastic animations, include awesome sound, and in general create very visually attractive stuff.

Problems with Flash.

  • The Flash player. People have to download the Flash player in advance before they can view Flash movies, so by using Flash your visitor range will decrease considerably because not everyone will be willing to download the Flash player just to view your site. You'll also have to put in additional work in redirecting the user to the Flash download page if he or she doesn't have the player installed. Even if the user does have the flash player installed. There are still issues regarding Flash versions.
  • Site optimization. Flash handles text very poorly. The web for the most part is about text. If your content was presented in Flash, most search engines wouldn't be able to index your content. Making it difficult to rank well in search engines and therefore less people will find your site through natural search, resulting in less traffic heading to your site. Recently Google announced a change in Flash indexing. Unfortunately this change only relates to the auxiliary files that make the Flash file run, they still cannot index the Flash file itself.
  • Loading time. Flash development usually takes much longer than the HTML equivalent. Normally the entire Flash site is downloaded. Big sites and large flash sites can be a Bandwidth and time hog. Users have to wait longer than usual to load Flash content compared to regular text and images, and some visitors might just lose their patience and click the Back button. Especially in countries that do not offer good broadband or where broadband is very expensive and not available to the masses. The longer your Flash takes to load, the more you risk losing visitors.
  • User Interaction. Many times Flash sites go against the interactive nature of the web.Flash technology favours a "presentation style" approach that resembles television. As a result users often become observers only. Without the ability to interact they get bored after a while and leave, no matter how good the graphics look.
  • Some people just don't like Flash pages. Similar to embedded sound and animated graphics, Flash has developed a reputation among some customers as being more of an annoyance than a benefit to a Web page. This is especially true when the Flash serves no purpose other than to decorate a page.
  • Development issues. Flash Development is expensive. The Flash Development IDE from Adobe is costly. Flash is also a learned skill as well as a creative skill. Flash professionals can charge a large amount of money for their skills. Updating the site can also be a nightmare, as you are then tied in to the flash platform, requiring the skills of a flash developer.

Is there a solution?

Flash is not an evil beast. Flash is just a tool. Think of it as another tool in a web developers toolbox. Don’t overuse it, or don’t use it for the wrong reasons. Flash can certainly bring enhancements to a site. Although few, there are some instances when Flash technology can actually be helpful. Here are some of the ways flash can be used on a web site:

  • Flash banners can create a visual introduction or presence on a page.
  • When you need to show a presentation, for example a demo of your product.
  • To develop interactive games, like those found on sites for kids like Sesame Street, Nickelodeon, or Yahoo! Games.
  • When you want to dress up a minimalist site. In this case, a small Flash animation or banner embedded in an HTML document will not consume excessive bandwidth, will load fast, and will enhance the appearance of a bare-bones site.

Check out Goggles blog on the best use of flash.

Alternatives.

Like everything in life there is always an alternative. Seek these out before you decide to make a site completely in Flash, or before you consider using any flash on your site. This will obviously depend on your needs and skill.

  • DHTML. What's known as DHTML (JavaScript + html/css) can do a fair amount of what flash does. Until the availability of JavaScript libraries such as jQuery and MooTools adding animation and interactive features that don’t require reloading a web page were out of reach for many web designers/developers unless they used Flash. Check out this page on Flash vs JavaScript (jQuery) Pros and Cons
  • Ajax. Ajax is a type of way to vastly improve user experience. it stands for Asynchronous JavaScript And XML, which allows the web page to get information from a server without a full page refresh. This way, you can submit a form, and it will be blazingly fast, similar to a desktop application.
  • CSS. Cascading Style Sheets. A lot of visual effects can be achieved through CSS.
  • Progressive enhancement. Employ a Web design approach known as "progressive enhancement," whereby designs are layered in a concatenated manner to provide an alternative experience for non-Flash users. This way, all users, including search engine spiders, will be able to access your content and functionality

Even though there are alternatives, these can also have their fair share of problems. For instance, when making use of JavaScript, a user could effectively turn off JavaScript in their browser.

There are also alternatives to Adobe Flash. Check out this site for some Alternatives in Flash Designing Software.You can find it here.

Conclusion.

In conclusion I would just like to say that I have nothing against flash. Just like I have nothing against PHP or Linux or MySQL.  But I am of the opinion that one needs to use the right tool for the job, use it sparingly, don't overdo it. Flash can really enhance your site if used well, or it it can sink your site views and ranking.

This article was inspired by an article written by Bonnie from Landau Designs. Check out the original article at Why Shouldn't I Build My Site in Flash?

Do you use Flash? What do you think of Flash? Do you like it or not? Let us know your thoughts and leave a comment in the comment box below.

Related Reading:

Fading Banner Image Swap with JavaScript

Top 10 web design mistakes.

Top 10 Tips on SEO

10 Easy Tips to Fix a Bad Site.

Top 10 web design mistakes.

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