Flash is Evil

Macromedia Flash  logoOkay, so Flash is not really evil. Adobe Flash is a multimedia technology that allows web designers to add animation to web pages. Now, according to Adobe's sales hype, you can "Create interactive websites, rich media advertisements, instructional media, engaging presentations, games, and more." So what's the truth?

The truth is that Flash (or its big brother Shockwave) can be used to provide benefits to the user that simply cannot be accomplished in any other way. The truth is that the vast majority of designers using Flash waste that capability by using it to do meaningless tricks that impress nobody but themselves. I mean, who really cares if the site's logo is "spinning" around and around? Who really cares if buttons "glow" when the user's mouse cursor passes over them? What measurable benefit is that to the user? Who really cares if the buttons make a noise when you click on them? Well, I care about that one. I hate it when a web page makes noise while I'm listening to music. It's annoying.

Alright, other than the occasional annoying noise, what's wrong with all that? The problem is that, while Flash is a very efficient method for delivering multimedia content, it's still more bandwidth hungry than static content. That means the user has to download larger files from the server, which makes pages slower to load. The browser then has to load an external plugin in order to display the content. All this just for the priviledge of watching somebody's commercial.

So if Flash is so bad, why do people use it? Well, like I said, Flash is not evil. It's not bad either. As a general rule, no technology is inherently bad. It's just the application of that technology that can be either good or bad. Want to see a good use of Flash, or Shockwave? Visit most any major auto manufacturer's web site. Visit ESPN and get live game info. Visit the NFL's web site during football games and get live game information. There are others, albeit too few. Want to see a bad implementation of Flash? Just go to Adobe's own web site. I just visited the Adobe web site and was shocked. It had been a long time since I'd seen the site simply because it was a real pain with the overuse of Flash. Guess what. They seem to have fixed it! Sort of. Their home page still has a huge Flash animation, but they've toned down the pervasive use of Flash throughout. Okay. I'll find another bad use of Flash later.

With Flash, as with many things, there are trade-offs. As I mentioned, there is the file size issue with slow downloads. There are others. The user's Back button no longer works as it should. Users cannot choose to open a link in a new window, or a new browser tab. Users cannot enlarge the text in their browser (and a lot of Flash designers seem to use extremely small font sizes for their text). Users cannot print what they see. Users cannot bookmark a particular spot. Then there are version issues. Users continually have to keep returning to adobe.com and upgrade their Flash player to view the next generation "kewl" glowing pushbutton effect. Remember the purpose of your web site is to reach users. Why make it more difficult for them.

So what am I saying here? Web designers take note. If you can use Adobe Flash to provide a benefit to your user, go right ahead and do it. If all you're doing is adding fluff to a page, then quit wasting your users' time and skip it.