The Demise of Flash: 8 Main Reasons
Posted by Tadeusz Szewczyk on December 11th, 2006.
As a former Flash developer turned CSS zealot in the last 3 years I want to present the 8 main reasons for the demise of flash.
Now don’t get me wrong I still love Flash sites, at least to watch them and I acknowledge that there are certain cases where Flash is the better choice. Moreover you don’t have to choose one of those techniques, often you can combine both.
That said let me rant about my ex darling Flash. I may err in some cases because I started with Flash 3 and was an expert with Flash 6 (MX) so some of my points may not be entirely valid anymore, then correct me.
Nevertheless I get the larger picture: The demise of flash is obvious.
Although Adobe tells you that still 96% of the web browsers support Flash this simply is not true. Recent statistics from Germany (where I develop) show that roughly a little more than 50% of Internet users have Flash installed. Not necessarily the newest Flash plug in, in most cases probably Flash 5 or higher but rarely the current one.
Even me, proud to be the so called power user I often realize that after installing the latest browser version I can’t view flash content. My personal impression is that I reinstall the Flash plug once every three months. So the bottom line is: You can not feel assured that most users let alone all users can view a flash site or flash elements on your site.
Now this is rather an effect than reason for the downfall, but it nevertheless accelerates the demise of Flash.
Now let me come up with the reasons:
Reason 1: Flash ads.
Ask yourself from your own user experience: What’s the most annoying form of on line ads?
Right: Layer ads, Flash ads and pop unders. Layer ads combined with Flash are not only annoying they can shut down your PC. Indeed that’s what I experienced: My mother who is over sixty uses my old laptop. Old only means Pentium 4 and 512kb RAM so it’s not that old. She uses a 56k modem connection though. So one nice day she visited the German National Geographic site. The site had an animated Flash ad on top which on entering the site would slide down and overlay the whole page. Well, despisable on its own. Moreover either the ad was so huge or took so much resources that while loading on it killed not only the browser (of course Firefox) but it overheated the whole Notebook to switch it off completely. As Firefox reinstates the sites you viewed before a crash that damn ad crashed the PC over and over.
Anyways, most of you have experienced the annoyance of flash ads or sites forcing sound upon you when you listen to your own music. Hence he emergence of Flash-blockers for Firefox and other browsers are no wonder.
Reason 2: Search engine friendliness
If you have a string brand you might deem search engine users less important. But the overall majority of web sites truly depend on search engine traffic, foremost market champion Google. As I specialized on website optimization for search engines (also called SEO) I realized that making a Flash site means being virtually invisible for search engines. Even if you get spidered or even your SWF ends up in the index basically everyone will outrank you.
Reason 3: Usability
John Doe wants “don’t make me think” interfaces. Even I as a power user prefer to navigate sites quickly without trial and error clicking anywhere and everywhere. Some flash sites really make me angry. You simply can not see where you have to click. With HTML sites you just view the “page information”, right click or use one of the plethora of tools to list the links. In Flash? In most cases Flash does not display the links whatsoever. The latest version allows you to right click to see some links but I haven’t grasped yet which ones, probably those the developer decides to show you.
Besides that, Flash has still most of the issues it had from the start: Back button support? Downloading of images? Bookmarking and deep links? Right click functions…
Reason 4: Accessibility
That’s the most obvious drawback of Flash. It’s just not designed for the blind and otherwise impaired. I don’t think I have to elaborate on that. XHTML/CSS offers you plenty of tactics to make sites accessible for those who need it. Alt, title, summary attributes are just the most obvious ones. Flash sites really are a closed door or a black box for those who are handicapped. Ask yourself: Would you ban those people from entering your shop, institution or building? So why would you want to do it with your web site where it’s even easier to make your service available for everyone. Don’t forget: Many local laws force you by now to make sites accessible.
Reason 5: Downward compatibility
Reason 6: Overburdening developers
Flash not only failed due to a bad user experience. The demise is self made in as far as a new Flash version every year made your expertise obsolete faster that you could cope with the evolving software. Either you stopped doing everything else and concentrated on being a full time flasher or you ended up being not up to date. I just finished a one year long flash course making me a proud Flash and Action Script expert when Action Script became obsolete with AS 2.0. appearing.
It’s not just a problem of learning to master the new versions. It’s a matter of money. Macromedia and now Adobe makes you buy Updates every single time a new version comes out. Indeed, that will be one of the main reasons for the frequent updates. Who can afford that? Full time flashers again.
I didn’t even mentioned site maintenance yet. Although there are sophisticated Flash CMS solutions out there in most cases a company stuck with a Flash site is dependent on the developer that built it in the first place. No one else knows what to alter even for a little customization. Indeed in many cases the guy won’t give any competitor the source file (.fla) for your site. He assumes to be the copyright holder.
Reason 7: Failed internationalization
Living and working in Germany but being of Polish descent made me quickly realize the limitations and US centric approach of Flash. Indeed the situations was ridiculous.
In Flash 6 Polish letters (we have like the Germans or the French some characters that are not in the English alphabet) could not be displayed at all! I remember even a petition a Polish Flash Developers demanding Polish character set support for Flash!
In German the situation was just slightly better. You had to use really weird XML workarounds to make Flash understand German “umlauts” like ä, ö, ü. I guess that Russian, Arabic or Chinese developers faced bigger obstacles in creating flash sites.
It might be better by now, indeed I didn’t care after I switched back to HTML driven sites. I didn’t have to anymore.
Reason 8: No compliance with open standards
As Flash is proprietary and closed source the business model of Macromedia and Adobe is to prevent competitors from grabbing the market share in this segment. When Adobe still competed with Macromedia (what was the name of the Adobe made alternative to Flash? …) you still had the hope that XML based SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) would replace Flash one day.
Indeed I hoped for Adobe making Flash support SVG. I would have loved that. Instead Adobe abandoned SVG by ceasing to bundle Acrobat Reader with the SVG plug in. In fact newer browsers have built in support for SVG but it will take a while until you can use it for the average web site.
What’s the conclusion of this? I could appeal to Adobe once again to solve all this problems. I won’t do that. It’s not my job to help huge international conglomerates out of self inflicted trouble. Why should I help them to optimize their product? In contrast what I can do is to reach out to the web standards and CSS community as a Flash convert and to make the user experience of CSS sites more “flashy”, because, as I said in the beginning: Flash is not all bad. Look out for follow ups. In the meantime think twice before getting or developing a flash site.
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