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Why Flash is okay, but not for an entire website

Flash can be pretty and neat and can even help present important information. But we’ve been noticing a proliferation of websites built entirely in Flash lately. It’s not a good thing. Here’s why.

Flash is, in practice, not searchable. Search engines like Google can’t consistently search or index your content, if it’s all flash. For similar reasons, if someone wants to quote you or send your name to their associate, they can’t copy and paste any of your text. And it also means that someone trying to search your page for a particular term, can’t. Your text effectively becomes pictures. This also means that someone who is vision impaired, probably won’t be able to coax their screen reader into making sense of your precious content.

Also, most flash sites don’t have urls for separate pages. This means that someone can’t email you a link to a particular page. Which is annoying. If you have content that you think is important, why not make it available in discrete chunks that others can share. No one sends a link, of a flash site, to their friend with instructions, just click to the “page” called “about” and then click on “how to build such and such.” That’s annoying. It’s also annoying for users when they click the back button on their browser and end up going back to the last website, instead of the last page of your site.

Guavestudios is a bad flash websiteNow, in fairness, I should add that there is a way to make flash sites that are searchable, machine readable, browser button enabled and page url enabled. But in practice these are rarely built. And to drive this point home, I just searched for a list of the best flash sites ever built. Then I randomly clicked on one of the sites in the list. I then went to www.guavestudios.com. This site, for all of it’s bells and whistles and prettiness, fails to comply to basic usability standards. This is especially interesting since they appear to be a web design firm, with a lot of money. I can’t post a link to their team page. And I can’t copy and paste the name of one of their team members from this page.

Oh, and I almost forgot to add: it’s also often slow.

Update: www.guavestudios.com is much better now.

8 Responses to “Why Flash is okay, but not for an entire website”

  1. me says:

    I had a closer look at guavestudios

    1) I could reach the team site per direct url http://www.guavestudios.com/#/team/our-team?l=de-de (which browser did you use – i tried it on mac and win-pc on different browsers)

    2) You can copy/paste text with flash – but you have the choice to activate it or not – in this case i don’t think that it is important to copy the name of a team member or something…

    3) They have a HTML alternative for their site and backlinked it at the main index which redirects to the flash page if a flashplayer is installed. The Google Crawler or a person with disabilities (most of them do not have flash player active) will be able to read the HTML Version perfectly. The links which are findable via google.com (for example search for “guavestudios endemol”) are redirecting to the direct page (html or flash version – depending on what you have active). I think this is a good compromise and the site seems to be well-crawled.

    4) flash is slow on apple machines 😉 on my 5 year old win notebook it ran perfectly.

  2. Thanks for the note! When I tried this site on my desktop mac, I was able to get to url-specific pages, which is good. Funny, my laptop mac, in conjunction with Firefox, didn’t access this feature. In terms of copy/paste, I think this is the interesting thing with flash only or even flash mostly sites. All of the features are possible in theory, but in practice it’s usually a different story. It is a partial refutation of my argument that this design company’s site is better enabled than I first thought. But I could find many other Flash sites that aren’t. Actually the HTML alternative opened on my iPhone which is quite cool. Most people with Flash sites don’t have an HTML alternative. And most people are not told they should have such a thing. The HTML alternative of http://www.guavestudios.com is really cool! It is interesting that the site is well crawled – they have a Google page rank of 3. Do you think their rank would be higher if they didn’t have Flash? And more importantly, do you think my main point, that most Flash sites fail to meet these basic standards, is still true?

    I’ll update the main article soon, given your refutations.

  3. me-again says:

    Hi Sherwin,

    Thanks for the answer 🙂

    FLASH AND THE USABILITY UCKUPS

    I agree with you that most of full-flash-Websites out there
    should have accessiblity first and many full-flash sites still haven’t that good enough.

    But more and more integrate swfadress and so on – it is much more used now than a few
    years ago (just take a look at http://www.thefwa.com) and almost every professional
    web-agency which is developing full flash projects integrate it. Almost the same like with
    frames in HTML (you can also do HTML sites badly 😉 )

    I think that flash is good in online-marketing purposes where you ned athmosphere and
    interactive experience first (online games, multimedial experiences and so on) and not
    in full-flash websites.

    But my guess, why the site you mentioned could be full-flash is, that this company
    seems to be very active in online-marketing and promotional area where many many projects
    are realized in flash and where graphical and multimedial user experiences are more
    important than tons of information or functionality. Maybe the company has to present
    itself more like that to sell their services. If you look at their portals under portfolio
    you’ll not find a full-flash portal or something else there 😉

    PAGE RANK

    My experience learnd me that the pageRank is mostly demanding on the number of links
    which point to the site and the importance/relevance of these links. In this case,
    the links to the flash page and to the html alternative are the same for the crawler,
    i don’t think it would make big difference if they’d only have the HTML version.
    The crawler doesn’t even notice the flash-version much cause it should follow
    the internal back linking structure of the site which leads through every navigation-point.

  4. Sherwin says:

    Yup. You are right again. I did go check out thefwa.com and there were many, many well organized, and well built Flash sites. I think I’ll publish another post trying to refine my point, so people don’t think I’m totally anti-Flash. And on the other hand I don’t want to come across as a snob either. So for example, some folks have easy access to a service that enables them to publish a website, possibly even for free, and maybe they find it user friendly and affordable. I don’t want to tell these people not to do this. I want to encourage people to publish in whatever ways work for them.

    Someone recently asked me about the service provided by Wix at http://www.wix.com/ for example. I had to admit that I didn’t know about their service, but that I have seen many poorly built Flash sites. But ultimately I wanted to be encouraging of their investigations and leanings. Maybe I can find a way to speak critically about the pitfalls of Flash sites without indicting the [high end, upper class] Flash sites that are built well, nor indicting the low budget interests of folks that are looking for ways to publish a website. Better to publish than to get shut down by someone that comes off as a snob. 🙂

    I appreciate your insights here!

  5. anonymous in graphic design says:

    I unquestionably understand everything you have explained. Actually, I browsed throughout your several other articles and I do believe you’re totally right. Congrats with this particular blog.

  6. Dean Huot says:

    What is the best program to create an html email blast?

  7. pinksheep says:

    Hi Dean. I recommend using MailChimp. It’s a free service up to 2000 subscribers and they have excellent downloadable resources to help you understand newsletter best practices, and especially to understand what spam is. Many people, inadvertently, end up spamming people and it harms their reputation.

  8. Francisco says:

    Thanks for the excellent information – helpful.

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