Flash - pros and cons

  s3mt3x 10:21 16 Dec 2003

Following on from an earlier thread, I thought I'd start this to see what people think about flash - the file sizes, usability issues and the bad parts too :).

  Taran 10:52 16 Dec 2003

I've said most of what I wanted to say in the other threads.

I'll summarise my feelings as follows:

Had Flash or any counterpart product not been available at all for another couple of years, when it was released it would have caused a vast storm, far more of a stir thatn it did a few years ago, since a far larger audience would be in a position to enjoy it and interact with it.

In that regard I think it fair to say that it was streets ahead of itself as a product and, quite simply, the web was not and is not ready to cope adequately with it.

I appreciate that someone who knows what they are doing with Flash can produce excellent output with far lower file sizes than many would expect, but no matter how clever the user, there are still real issues with feeding Flash site inclusions well and those who can (or will) go the extra mile are far outweighed by those who don't.

At work I've been on broadband for ages and at home I've had it for some time as well, yet even now, I rarely sit and wait when confronted by a loading screen. I'm just not interested in waiting when the site content is what I want to see.

I want to read about products and services.

I want to read about the benefits to me if I buy those products and services.

I want to see catalogues of goods and have payment taken securely as and when I choose to buy.

I want a client base that is wholly satisfied in their web site or application and I don't want the added headaches of making Flash content accessible to the disabled.

Since most web content is still text based, you can't realistically expect people to generate their text output using Flash to any real extent. It just isn't practical.

All of these issues can be tackled to some extent if, and only if, you are well above average with Flash. Few, if any of them can be fully addressed though.

I looked at a Flash site some months ago that showcased the talents of those people who had submitted their work to it. It was breathtaking and my hat goes off to them all. I couldn't think of one single use I could put any of the site content to though, apart from as a "look at this, aren't I the greatest animator you've ever seen ?" statement.

There are few real world uses I like to put Flash to that I can't do as well or better by using other methods. I do tie it into PHP and ASP and use it as a front end for web applications sometimes, but not often, and in doing so I have to deal with loads of additional headaches not present when using other methods.

So until such time as animated GUI's become a mainstay that I am asked for on a regular basis, my use of Flash will continue to be very, very sparing.

I like it, and I admire it and what it is capable of in the right hands. If anyone thinks though, that they can produce a visually identical site (the whole site, not just elements of it) to one written in CSS/XHTML with the same or lower file sizes then my hat goes off to them too and it's something I wouldn't mind seeing myself. I know how small files can get when produced in CSS/XHTML.

I've met and worked with some incredible professioanl Flash developers over the years and the vast majority of their work, even at their level, still has a penalty o pay at load time and they all, without exception, pray for the day when compression is such that they can deliver to all and not just to some.

The world wasn't really ready for Flash and for general web use, I still think that this is the case.



  s3mt3x 11:04 16 Dec 2003

click here

Just as an example of what can be made. Is the loading time on this site really that different to waiting for a site with many images to load fully?

  s3mt3x 11:16 16 Dec 2003

"look at this, aren't I the greatest animator you've ever seen ?"

I agree that the development time in flash is much greater than in HTML - but I think a well designed flash site will always look far more apealing than any HTML site. As far as your quote goes above, isn't this what many companies want? Not every company in the world is interested in masive web applications with huge databases of products! Many companies simply want to make an online statement - "this is our site look - arn't we professional". And in my humble opinion there is no substitute for flash in this department - would you agree?

  Sir Radfordin 11:20 16 Dec 2003

The question I'd ask of anyone using Flash is "does it actually add value to the site?" If it doesn't then in my view, there is no point in using it. It is something that for so long has been used by designers to show off what they/macromedia can do.

Looking at the site you quote click here is an example of this. I can hardly make out what the site is about or even read most of the text. Yes it looks 'nice' but that is at the cost (as with so many other sites) of functionality.

If Flash is so great then why aren't more people using it (Amazon, BBC, Dell, PCA...!)? There are very few sites I visit where Flash is the default format.

In my opinion Flash isn't for webdesign its much more a multimedia tool. Yes it can be used to design websites but as I've said it rarely adds anything to the site. There are some great examples of flash out there (cheesy little christmas cards to weird little games) and that is something that it does well.

If someone shows me a Flash site that is also a 'good site' and not just a showcase for someones design/animation/flash ability then perhaps I'll change my mind.

  s3mt3x 11:25 16 Dec 2003

"Not every company in the world is interested in masive web applications with huge databases of products! Many companies simply want to make an online statement - "this is our site look - arn't we professional". And in my humble opinion there is no substitute for flash in this department - would you agree?"

  Sir Radfordin 11:26 16 Dec 2003

"Would Amazon.com use that design element on its site?"
click here

Recently read "Son of Web pages that suck" and your point about companies using a flash splash page to say "aren't we pros" is something that is covered. If my memory serves me correctly the author of the books thinks most often it [Flash] creates the wrong idea about the company.

  s3mt3x 12:13 16 Dec 2003

Then in my opinion that is the fault of the designer - not flash! Flash, when used in the right mannor can be an extremely powerfull tool for conveying image, professionalism and company status. Everyone's been shopping online and decided against making a payment to a company with a "tatty" looking site simply because of the way it looks. You can go on and on about usability but where do you stop? If you made a website compatible for "everyone" it would consist of not much more than text and text alone - how much business would your website attract then? According to macromedia, flash movies are "accessible to over 95%" of internet users. Can you garentee the same with your javascript and CSS?

  Sir Radfordin 13:11 16 Dec 2003

According to macromedia, flash movies are "accessible to over 95%"

As far as I'm concerend this is a pointless statistic. It says nothing about the users who can get it, or those who can't. What if the 5% who can't are the ones who provide 95% of your companies income?

Macromdia also sell Flash so they are unlikely to be quoting negative stats are they? Find an independent quote and that'll be more valid.

"Then in my opinion that is the fault of the designer"

Indeed, and the problem with too many websites is they are done by desingers and not developers!

  Taran 14:05 16 Dec 2003

Let's take a step back a bit and try to be objective. You are an obvious fan of Flash and sound as though you have a more than passing ability with the software. Despite my comments against it, I also qualify under those two headings. I also have my feet firmly planted in the world of commercial web design and development where the option to produce nothing more than a showcase or statement is, quite simply, not an option at all.

"Not every company in the world is interested in massive web applications with huge databases of products! Many companies simply want to make an online statement"

Oh really ?

You obviously design to a completely different commercial sector to me and most other designers I know of. I've yet to be asked to create a site that is nothing more than a statement and if I was asked to I'd be the first to point out to the company in question that it would be a largely insane objective to spend their budget on something that offers no revenue return. In fact, I'd feel as though I would have ill advised a client if I did not point this out, since a great deal of what I do involves planning and rolling out a suitable strategy to allow them to gain the most benefit from the least outlay in terms of their site.

The link you give is very, very impressive - no arguments there. I can give you hundreds of links to sites with Flash content that is tacky, tasteless, slow loading and of no relevance at all to the site content.

As Sir Radfordin so rightly asks, "does it actually add value to the site ?" Perhaps to that site it does. To the vast majority of sites though, no it does not.

These days where IT budgets are shrinking alarmingly, if I can't justify the cost of a site to a client and if they (and I) aren't convinced that the site will make a healthy return on their investment, they don't place their order, I don't write their site and that's that.

Cost investment has to be realised with return or you've just paid out at a significant loss and no business can afford to stay healthy for long if it makes a few of these decisions one after the other.

I often use Flash for media projects that are delivered over a known network speed or from CD ROM. In fact, I've done quite a few Flash education projects for the college I lecture at and it works like a charm when I know that every system has a specific browser version and operating system installed, that they are all connected to the same speed LAN and there will be no endless, loading... screens for the userbase because of these, and other reasons.

  Taran 14:06 16 Dec 2003

I can't and won't dispute that Flash is an excellent product but in its heyday a few years ago it was also at its most misused stages. Who cares if a seriously talented Flash programmer can shrink their output more than a lesser talented Flash dabbler. They still can't seriously challenge the page load speeds offered by other methods, although I shan't dispute that the potential visual impact can be stunning.

If the output of Flash could come even close to rivalling that of more standard methods I'd be using it a lot more, believe me.

Incidentally, yes, I can guarantee that the CSS1 I stick to is accessible to 100% of version 4 and over browsers and I never try to design below that threshold and not one of the many professional designers and developers I know and/or have worked with will try to back up to that point either.

I can also guarantee that level of compatibility on alternative Windows browsers such as Opera and Firebird as well as the IE and Netscape mainstays, plus Apple Mac and Linux browsers. In fact, of all the browsers listed, IE is the one that requires the most hacks to get your CSS to deliver properly, but either way, if everyone after version 4 can comfortably deal with my CSS1 I'd say I've hit about the vast majority of the planet as a potential audience, possibly even a higher percentage than your much vaunted 95% of Flash enabled web browsers. The thing with CSS, just as with Flash, if you know what you are doing with it, browser incompatibility becomes a no brainer because every browser issue has long since been highlighted and most good CSS coders know the hacks necessary to get the cross browser compatibility you mention. I know I do.

Frankly, I'm not sure where you are heading with this.

Movie sites run by huge sompanies offer, wiat for it, Flash or HTML versions of their sites. Why produce two of something if everyone was happy with one ? All that added expense, all the hassles to make the content of one mirror the other and so on ?

Why isn't PC Advisor running its websites in Flash ?

Because for general web content it's miles away from the most efficient method of delivery.

In the right hands, for the right project, Flash has its uses. Beyond that, anyone who can convince me otherwise for general web work better have one very compelling argument that they can fully back up. So far, such has not been the case.

Frankly, I'm out at sea here. I'm not sure where you are trying to head with this.

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