Flash flushed

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France
47° 34' 54.6528" N, 2° 39' 31.2876" E

At last and after a long wait, the horror that is Adobe Flash may be one step closer to being terminated. The good folks over at Mozilla, they who develop the venerable Firefox browser, have been blocking Flash-based content from running in Adobe’s Flash plugin for ages. If you want to view Flash animations or video in Firefox, you must accept a warning that Flash is known to be vulnerable. This isn’t news. What is news is that Facebook is now proposing that Adobe now kills Flash off. Hurray! Let’s hope it happens.

Clearly, the folk at Mozilla have good reason for this and have been uncovering real security vulnerabilities in Flash that Adobe has been slow to deal with.

Although that may be the soundest reasoning behind this move, I have two very big objections to Flash content appearing anywhere near a browser:

Flash content imposes its author’s timeline on the user

There was a time, back in the early days of multimedia, when it was genuinely interesting to script complex animations that presented information in novel ways. One could play with presentational architecture and come up with something genuinely interesting. It was specialist work that was not easy to do. If you ever watched anyone using Macromedia Director, you’ll understand.

Flash also is not easy to use. It is complex and requires considerable skill to use well. But – as is the way with these things – the Flash authoring system was opened up to less-talented designers, often through the availability of cheap authoring tools, and less interesting Flash-based animations started to appear. These tended to be slideshow-like presentations which kicked off when a web page loaded and left you completely in the dark about how long you were going to be seduced by nonsense before you could branch off into the parts of the site that you wanted to get to.

I admit to one instance of guilt in this regard: a project I did for a French client about a property being developed near Grenoble. The client wanted a seductive sequence of fade-in images with a narration and much as I tried to head them off into a different way of doing things, this is what they wanted. I didn’t walk away from the project because I thought I could moderate the worst of their intentions, so I built a Flash animation that was a compromise. The result would not have won prizes and my bet is that most people who encountered it didn’t really go for it … although at the time I think it was perhaps quite popular in France, certainly more so than in England.

Nowadays, this sort of listen-at-my-speed presentation on a web page is guaranteed to bomb. It is a hideous user-interface imposition.

Flash throws an invisibility cloak around content

The second reason I have for wanting Flash to be killed is a screamer. Whatever you put inside a Flash presentation becomes invisible to search engines. The content is cloaked. Flash animations are a black box that might as well have no content at all.

Check it out for yourself next time you see a Flash animation. Right-click on the web page and View Source. There will be no meaningful content. Everything will be hidden inside the Flash container.

I was once asked to take a look at a website that wasn’t doing at all well in Google. Simple: the whole site was a Flash animation. Its menu text, its titles, its text content: everything was just pixels. By throwing the Flash animation away and using straight text instead, the site joined the real world and started to be listed properly in Google.

Let it go!

So there are three reasons for Flash to be terminated:

  • it has security vulnerabilities
  • it uses an out-dated model of user interactivity
  • it can be disastrous for search engine content-indexing.

When Flash dies and is just a memory, I will shed not a tear. Just let it go, please!

If you really need to have animation inside a web page, please use HTML5’s audio, canvas, drawing and video elements.

August 2015 footnote

I see that Amazon has now followed suit and has banned Flash ads from appearing on its ad platform across its sites. See The Guardian’s report of this.