(originally published in The
Jerusalem Post, December 2003)
All Flash and Little Substance?
Motion catches the eye -- it's our automatic physiological
Flash is a popular application that produces moving images
on Web pages. The effect is considered
cool and cutting-edge -- and sometimes the hope seems to
be that using it to create a site will make the company
it represents seem similarly cool and cutting-edge. But
is it always a good solution? Is it really suitable for
your site? Following is a list of considerations to help
- It is cool. Really. Done
well, it can make a powerful impression. For
examples of effective Flash use, visit the sites for Nike and The
- Flash is exceptional at demonstrating procedures
and illuminating principles. Although
this isn’t a requirement for most sites, it’s
helpful in situations where you want to show precisely
how to step through a complicated set of instructions.
For example if you want to demonstrate how to use particular
software, a brief Flash movie can be worth thousands
of words. (Hmmm…I wanted to give you an example
of this, so I went to the Macromedia site.
I remembered that they had exactly this sort of interactive
Flash-based lesson to advertise how to use their new
program, Contribute. Guess what? The Flash-based show
has been replaced with the less cool, but foolproof
and universally accessible, static HTML and images.
Makes you wonder….)
- Cost. Good Flash development is pricier
than HTML. Will your site really get a better return
on investment if it features Flash? If not, and if budget
is a major consideration, it may not be worthwhile.
- Search engine ranking. Good placement
for your keywords is highly dependent on having lots
of keyword-rich text on your pages. Search engines cannot
(yet) process the text in Flash pages.
- Download time. Flash pages have much
larger file sizes than HTML pages with the same amount
of information. While this isn’t a factor for visitors
with broadband access, most people still use slow dial-up
modems. Those faced with a lengthy wait will often simply
leave for a different site. They’ll never see your
site at all.
- Lack of user compliance. Flash is
a plug-in, not a built-in part of the browsers. Some
users opt not to let it install, and will therefore never
see your site.
- Download times. Regular HTML pages
are cached in your browser, so if you wish to return
to a previous page it will appear nearly instantaneously.
Not so with Flash. Each time you request a page, even
if you've already visited it, it has to download all
over again. This can be very slow and is particularly
irksome on content-rich sites, when you may be revisiting
ONE DESIGNER’S OPINION
Until the majority of Internet users have broadband access, I consider an
all-Flash interface more suitable for non-Internet uses, such as kiosks,
CDs, etc. However, if your budget can handle it, Flash can make a nice
addition to a site -- particularly on the home page. But in order to avoid
the problems noted above, instead of doing the whole page in Flash, embed
the Flash element(s) in a regular HTML page. This has several advantages:
- Visitors without Flash will still be able to read your
- Text can be processed by search engines
- Perceived download time will be faster, since the HTML
sections can be read while the Flash is still loading
Does this mean that if you don’t use Flash your
site will be perceived as dull and old-fashioned? Not if
it’s well-designed! Many top-of-the-line sites use
non-Flash interfaces. Some who hopped on the Flash bandwagon
later reverted to static sites, probably for reasons similar
to those in the “Cons” list above.
For visitors, “cool” often takes a backseat
to useable. Whatever technology you decide to include in
your site, make sure it helps your visitors; don’t
let it impede their access to your site.
Do you have any questions? Contact
me and I'll try to answer them in upcoming articles. Also,
you may subscribe for
free to the AtarTec newsletter, which consists of new
articles as well as notifications of critical Windows
updates and relevant virus information.
Request a free
estimate for your web site project.