Flash-backward?

Oct 21, 2008 · 3 comments

in interactive

This morning Brian Morrissey asked his twitter followers “should an agency brag about its ‘new all-flash website?’. Before I read his post on AdFreak, I had no idea which agency he was discussing. Indeed, just last night my former colleagues at Resource Interactive launched their own site. However, having been there while they were working through the planning for the new site, I knew that RI had been very conscious not to overdose on Flash.

Anyone who knows my background knows that I have a love-hate relationship with Flash. Years of focusing on accessibility, reuse and search engine optimization had me a bit jaded when I started at Resource. Yet working with a team of strong developers with an awareness of the shortcomings of Flash lead me to a grudging appreciation of the power it did offer.

In 2008, would I advocate an entirely Flash-based site from an agency? Only if it were built in a progressively enhanced manner to account for the different platforms people are using the access the web. Sure, many people have the Flash player installed on their computer.. but what about those of us who love our iPhones?

The folks at Adobe are doing great things to allow Google to index content within Flash.. but it’s still in its infancy. With HTML, you can use semantic tags such as headings to indicate the relative importance of your content. There is currently nothing similar for content that is rendered inside your Flash experience. Google may index it, but it has no idea what’s most important, which may have a negative effect on how your site is ranked.

Can site visitors deep-link into your Flash experience? Even if Google does manage to dig into your content, can site visitors easily find what they’re looking for once they hit your site? Schematic does a good job at this, although I wish having JavaScript disabled didn’t throw you into a stripped down site (looks like this may be their mobile fall-back).

Schematic\'s website with JavaScript disabled

Schematic's website with JavaScript disabled

Resource Interactive\'s Website with JavaScript Disabled

Resource Interactive's Website with JavaScript Disabled

I’ve written enough on this blog about Flash and accessibility and how it kinda-sorta works in certain environments. Does your target audience really not include anyone with visual, motor or cognitive impairments? Are you willing to ignore them on the off chance they’re not using Windows/IE with JAWS?

Flash may seem engaging and appealing to a client, but can you afford to put all your eggs in a rich internet application basket? Sadly, many clients aren’t aware of the intricacies of the techniques that ensure your site is accessible and usable by all shades of your target audience. Is your agency doing you a disservice by selling you the shiniest car on the lot, with no information on what’s under the hood and how it performs?

I do want to be fair: I took a look at the Razorfish site that Brian posted about, and it degrades gracefully with JavaScript disabled. Indeed, Razorfish (or as it was then known as, Avenue A Razorfish) are the folks who published the white paper on SOFA – Search Optimized Flash Architecture. They know their stuff, they are not building Flash sites at the expense of the other things I’ve spoken about today. But are they educating their potential clients on the quality under the hood?

RIA is about interaction.. make sure your agency can explain to you how different audiences on different platforms can interact and engage with your site and brand. Otherwise, you can just go ahead and print up a few old brochures.

{ 3 comments }

1 Bryan Oct 21, 2008 at 3:57 pm

I think flash is quite horrible, but that’s mostly Adobe’s fault regarding its player, not the technology itself necessarily.

If they’d open up their player and let people work on it that actually care and actually have skills things may change, but for now it’s a burden, especially if you use Mac or Linux.

Maybe if by default you could set things to be low-quality (ie, not run 100% CPU for no reason) it’d be different.

Resource’s not-so-flashy site is nicer, that’s for sure. Anyone can make a site that’s all flash, and in the same sense can make something that really, really sucks. If you can make a good site without flash you can do just about anything well.

2 Brett Borders Oct 22, 2008 at 12:19 pm

I hate Flash.

3 Andrea Oct 22, 2008 at 12:56 pm

LOL! I used to, but I will admit you can do some pretty incredible stuff with Flash and Flex, so long as its not gratuitous.

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