quarta-feira, 2 de julho de 2008

About Flash in websites

This week I read in CNET News that Google, Yahoo and Adobe are working around some limitations on searching and indexing content within SWF files, those made using Flash. They say it would – finally! – make it possible to search content from websites built using Adobe Flash.

I never liked Flash as a solution for creating websites. Although it has many cool features for navigation and animation, when it comes to data and information retrieving, it really sucks. The way I see it (and you may not agree with me, that’s OK!), the Web is mostly about retrieving data…so, IMHO Flash is not the right tool for building a website, unless you’re not concerned with “minor” details like:

  1. Making it searchable – that will be fixed soon, but till today, it’s almost impossible to index content from a SWF file. Some people try to get around this limitation using meta tags in the page that hosts the SWF file, but it’s merely impossible to make it search-friendly like a regular HTML webpage.
  2. Making it possible to copy the website content – althoug this already can be done, mostly it’s not how people built their SWF files. If you want to copy the content of a flash website, you will have some trouble because mostly they’re not built with this in mind. After all, what matters is to make a “cool flash site”, isn’t it?
  3. Creating different URLs for each section of a website: most flash websites use a single URL for the whole site, instead of creating different pages, which make it impossible to bookmark a specific page or use the “back” and “forward” browser features. If you want to keep a specifc section of a flash website in your bookmarks, well, you just don’t have a way to do it, unless the site has different pages for each section, using different HTML files for each SWF file.
  4. Using standard elements for navigation – each browser, each OS has it’s own elements for navigation, like scrollbars, buttons, forms. These elements work fine with the computer hardware (like the scrolling button in a mouse). But, why use these elements if you can create your own using Flash, right? So, flash websites mostly use tiny buttons, nasty scrollbars that doesn’t work with a regular mouse scrolling wheel (some people who make flash websites can make it work, but mostly they just don’t care about that), and forms that doesn’t work very well without a mouse (if you like to use ‘tab’ key on the keyboard to change from a form field to another, for example, instead of using your mouse).
  5. Flash websites can’t be read by blind people. Most blind users have programs that allows them to “read” a website content. But as flash is an element that can’t be interpreted by those programs, blind people can’t use a Flash website. Accessibility is a huge issue to be overcome by Adobe.

That’s why I still think that Flash is not a propper tool for building a website. I would use it very carefully, for creating elements of a page (and even so, I would make some alternative elements for accessibility issues, using CSS), but I would NEVER use it for building a whole website. Maybe one day the browsers and flash will work fine together, but till this point, they just don’t work. And as I’m more concerned about creating useful information systems than creating “emotional” and “cool” websites, I stick to the basics.

HTML works just fine.

PS: this is old, and Nielsen is a little fanatic, but still worth reading: Flash: 99% Bad

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  1. Fala Mauro! That’s a very well made point – which I partially agree though. The issue in this case, as you perfectly pointed out BTW, is not the technology itself but the way most designers approach it. Since it’s MX version (Flash Player 6.0, I believe), which was developed under Nielsen’s consultancy advice, most of the chronic usability problems were addressed. I disagree that it sucks on info/data retrieving: actually it does a pretty decent job nowadays. Accessibility could be improved, but HTML/CSS sites that are not developed with the proper attention to this point, can also be “unaccessible” – even if browsers and OSs have so many built-in features for that.
    Flash for the sake of Flash is certainly a cancer in the web. But that are also occasions where the “wow factor” is more important than textual information. Animations, sounds and funky transitions ARE information when they are conceived for that purpose. And sometimes word-of-mouth can be even more valuable than SEO for marketing a website.
    It’s all a matter of doing a good job within the appropriate strategy (not true in 99% of cases =D).

    Daniel Risi
    quinta-feira, 3 de julho de 2008
    2:37
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