News flash: Flash websites still suck

It’s been a veritable geek flash-mob — in more ways than one — since Google announced that it will now be able to search and index Flash files on the Web, thanks to a special player that Adobe has created for it and Yahoo to use. The player effectively acts like a regular user, clicking on the various buttons or dragging sliders or whatever, in order to reveal all of the content trapped within the Flash widget or page. As far as I can tell, the only thing the Adobe player won’t be able to simulate is a pissed-off user clicking away from the page altogether, because the Flash widget or movie is so annoying and/or completely useless.

I’m no SEO magician, but I also have to wonder (as Erick Schonfeld does) whether the ability to search through Flash files is going to be that great for websites, since the main thing that gets you higher in Google search results is the number (and quality) of links that you have to your content. Are people all of a sudden going to start linking to the content inside a Flash widget, or boosting their links to a page because it has searchable Flash now? I don’t think so, although I could be wrong.

But the biggest fly in the ointment for me is the simple fact that most Flash websites are — not to put too fine a point on it — crap. The technology is occasionally used to good purpose, but more often than not is a cheap and cheerful way to make a site look interactive and fun, while simultaneously robbing it of any usefulness and overdosing on eye candy. Disagree? Feel free to tell me so in the comments.

32 thoughts on “News flash: Flash websites still suck

  1. Personally I'm not a fan of Flash when it's used for the entire interface, but there is no better method of delivering rich visual content. Flash has relatively low barriers to entry so it's easy for a bad designer to create a truly dreadful site, but it's also relatively easy for a bad developer to inflict gratuitous AJAX on the end user so that their CPU usage is pinned at 100%. I don't think either scenario is really a criticism of the tool so much as the person implementing it.

    I also wonder if this post shows how easy it is to maintain a relatively narrow view of the web from within the world of tech blogs, in which it's all about text and rapidly produced video, not about production values or building engagement with brands. Automotive sites, sports sites (like Nike's Jumpman site, and many of the sites developed by agencies like AKQA for video games, etc. may not be your thing, but they can certainly be effective for their target audience.

    Oh, and without Flash, YouTube and Flickr couldn't exist in their current forms…

    • We had streaming video for, like, a decade before Flash became everyone's everything. It is still possible to just point your favourite non-sucky media player at a YouTube URL and watch the video. Flash per se isn't really adding anything here.

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  3. Daniel, your point about Flash and sites like YouTube and Flickr is well taken — those are good examples of how using Flash is not just good but arguably the best possible outcome.

    I disagree, however, that there is “no better method of delivering rich visual content.” And I regularly go to non-tech websites, including some of the ones you mention, and still believe that some — if not all — of them could do just as good a job (if not better) of building value or “engaging with the brand” or whatever you want to call it without using Flash.

    I think in most cases, Flash is the equivalent of a really beautiful looking TV ad that tells you nothing whatsoever about the product — it makes a whole team of designers happy, and it's nice to look at, but it accomplishes very little.

    • “it makes a whole team of designers happy, and it's nice to look at, but it accomplishes very little.”

      Well there's the essence of our disagreement. If looking beautiful wasn't important, then for better or for worse entire industries or categories of products wouldn't exist. Being nice to look at is actually hugely important and even if you don't like the term “engaging with the brand” it's something that is often best supported by animation and video. Animation and video aren't just frivolous eye candy; they help sites deliver their content and if used well keep visitors on the site.

      Flash video, for example, is not the best choice by only a small margin; it's simply the only viable choice for ubiquitous video content on the web today.

      Then there are other examples like using Flex on

      • Well, we've already agreed on Flash video and photo services such as
        Flickr — I think those are excellent, and I think they are a great
        way of delivering “rich content.” I have absolutely no problem with
        that, nor with things like Yahoo Finance, where Flash or Flex is
        performing roughly the same function as something Ajaxy would.

        And I would never say that looking beautiful isn't important, because
        it is — but it's not the *most* important thing, and probably not
        even one of the top 5, even if it does keep users on a site longer.

        In any case, I think we probably agree more than we disagree. A well
        thought-out and judicious use of Flash can be a great thing, but there
        are far fewer examples of that than I might like, and far more
        examples of the opposite.

        • I absolutely disagree. I think when dealing with media files like video, audio and especially photos, Flash only serves to make them more inaccessible, and make working with them more restricted. In fact, that is usually *why* it is used; as a form of poor-mans access control to the media.

          The only place I would use Flash (if I were permitted to put my users first) would be for the interactive visualization of large sets of data. And even for this, SVG and JS or server-side code can now do anything Flash does, but openly.

          But then, being beautiful does not even make my top ten. I am more concerned with things like interoperability with other software (ESPECIALLY for web sites) and the most efficient and accessible UIs (which are almost always ugly and almost never Flash).

  4. Great post Matt.

    This news is good for the sake of indexing content that is already out there, but it's probably a mistake for sites to think this is a green light for full flash development. At search conferences Google reps (and everybody) used to laugh at the heavy flash sites created at huge expense by big, SEO deficient advertising firms.

    That said this is an important development in that it may shake up current rankings as heavy flash sites are less repressed in ranks than before.

    Actually, for the linking reason you note above bloggers are SEO magicians – sometimes without even knowing it. Congratulations!

  5. “main thing that gets you higher in Google search results is the number (and quality) of links that you have to your content.”

    You want a girl who looks good? Or a girl that needs 1000 people to tell you she's rankable?

    Flash developers just want to make somethings that looks good. We don't cry over Google ranking.

      • The saying about the bear in the woods springs to mind….

        It is slightly worrying that people jumped on an announcement that basically said nothing new. The Flash Search SDK has been around for a couple of years now and Google implemented it some time ago so this big announcement is actually hyping up a pretty lowly modification, since flash still carries no semantic meta data of any sort it still will suffer all the problems it currently has when it comes to ranking.

        Google has indexed SWFs for well over a year, this announcement means Google now has even more content to deal with and yet provides no real mechanism to help either Google or Developers with tools to assist actual ranking.

  6. Mathew I both agree and absolutely disagree with your statement.

    Yes Flash can be used for good and not evil and I have seen both.

    But I ask you this have you ever written an article that you didn't think it didn't deserve the coverage, but you had to anyways?

    Have you ever had to convince a client that Flash wasn't they way to go but yet the client was so inspired by magic of flash that they didn't want anything else.

    Have you ever played or had your children ask you to play a game on the Internet. Oh that needs flash?

    The new Wall-E site. . . . Ya. . . Flash. . . . My 2.5 year old nephew can navigate that site.

    And on a journalist point. I hate sensation headlines that get my nickers in the knot. You can get my attention in a more subtle way, you work for the globe you can write an intelligent headline. And that is what I look for from your personal blog too. Intelligent Technology news, whether I agree or disagree with your article is up for debate. But if I wanted Technology News written with Sun styled headlines I know where to find them.

    • Thanks for the comment, Robert. I am willing to admit that there are
      lots of situations in which Flash makes sense — and that there are
      also lots of situations where clients want it and you have to do it.
      That doesn't change my central point, however.

      As for the headline, there's a fine line between a “sensational”
      headline and one that gets your attention — a line that is so fine in
      some cases that it's difficult to see at all. I couldn't help but
      notice, for example, that you enjoyed the headline on my Rogers iPhone
      post, and that one was arguably just as sensational 🙂

      • Well that is like saying to picture sucks of because of the camera and not the user. It is the developers of flash that suck not the program itself.

        In regards to the headline. At least the Rogers one ended up being true! But I am glad to see you started quite the debate on this post. Sometimes it takes a headline like that to get the masses involved, but I even if flash did suck I still didn't like the headline.

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  8. Yeah it should all be text based and have no graphics. Yawn…

    Oh Mathew. You are so old school. Clearly you've spent too much time cavorting with your engineering and uber geek friends. When done brilliantly and for the right reasons, Flash rocks.

    • Thanks, Leigh — and it's “old skool” by the way 🙂

      I totally agree with your statement about Flash — it does rock, when
      done brilliantly and for the right reasons. Unfortunately, there's a
      whole lot of Flash out there that doesn't fit either part of that

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  11. Some of the posts here referred to flash widgets, and I agree with their assessment. These things are the best use of flash. When sites decide that a rich multimedia bombardment on the user is better then simplicity, you get the 99.99% of flash use in websites.

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  13. I agree. For people like me– who use the internet to get useful information– it's an annoying waste. For people that just like to dick around and play games then I suppose Flash is good.

    I have worked on probably 50-100 Flash sites (as back-end dude) and maybe 1 was worth doing. The rest were at the insistence of the dopey money-to-burn client.

    I will say that some of the Flex stuff can be interesting. Generating charts/graphs is much best handled via Flex. Mulit-file upload works better with Flex. There are some possibilities here. So maybe it won't suck forever.

  14. I totally agree. I can't stand flash websites most of the look cheesy and take to a while to load( and you know how fun it is to watch a loading screen….).

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