Search the blog

Flash is a popular technology that allows media-rich interactive content such as sound and video to be served through a browser or a standalone Flash player. It has rapidly gained popularity for website creation as some web developers feel it gives them a creative freedom that standard HTML cannot give them and developers can implement high levels of game-like interactivity into their websites. Since Flash requires a client-side plugin (the Flash player) it eliminates any cross browser compatibility issues that are often the bane of the HTML developer. Relying on the user to have the plugin is not too much of a problem as the Flash player is one of the most widely distributed plugins in the world. Should you make your website entirely in Flash? This article sheds some light on the some of the main reasons users don’t like Flash-only websites. Please note though, I am not wholly against Flash-only websites. Sometimes people do require that extra level of slickness and interactivity.

As unfair as it may seem Flash has a bad name for itself. Your average Internet surfer has had so many dissatisfactory Flash experiences they are usually unwilling to risk another. Your Flash site may be the best thing ever but some visitors will close down the browser window the moment they get an inkling of a Flash-only website. Some even say there is no such thing as a good website. Like it or not this prejudice is around and is an important factor.

Most graphic designers aren’t web designers. Flash-only websites are perhaps most commonly used by designers and those in the art industry. Often thinking that pure HTML is not good enough for them they will create over-the-top Flash sites that are huge in size and difficult to navigate. Some, but not all, of these kinds of website are perhaps to blame for the Flash prejudice.

Flash can get in the way of good content

You only use a site because there’s something you want out of it, usually information or data of some kind. The quicker the user gets this information the happier they are – Flash can often obstruct this leaving the user discontented. Look at the simplicity of websites like the BBC: the information is abundant yet easy to find.

Splash screens

Many Flash-only (and some non-Flash) websites have a splash screen usually telling the user some patronising requirements pertaining to the version of Flash they need and the screen resolution they should be running. This is not only very irritating to the user but it is really off-putting. In fact, these kinds of splash screens have been known to turn away up to a third of visitors.

Having the latest Flash player

The Flash Player may be widely distributed but it doesn’t mean that everybody has the latest player. In fact, many people don’t have the latest player; Flash is not forwards-compatible so if the user has an older player your site simply will not load. Will they download the new version just to view your site? It’s highly unlikely.

Uncrawlable content

Search engines, in general, do not like Flash movies. Think about the last time you did a Google search and a Flash-only website ranked at the top. It seldom happens. Some search engines have Flash crawling capabilities to a limited degree but it is not possible to mark up your content to the same level you can with HTML.

Too much waiting around

Since Flash-only websites are rich in media they are also, generally, larger in file size. To prevent functionality errors Flash developers will implement a preloader which loads the entire Flash movie before letting the user interact with it. This ensures the movie plays correctly but it does mean lot of waiting around. This is frustrating as some Flash movies may take up to several minutes to load even on a broadband Internet connection. Some developers attempt to counteract this by preloading individual segments of the movie and preloading them as and when the user needs them; this results in a very sluggish user experience.

If HTML isn’t broken, why fix it?

HTML is not perfect but according to the masses it seems to be doing a better job than Flash. Browsers load the HTML first and then load the images; a carefully designed website can display legible content even before any of the images have loaded. What’s more, well-written HTML is accessible by search engines and human users, even those with learning disabilities. Furthermore, New “Web 2.0” sites harnesses the power of JavaScript and AJAX to take the level of user interaction on websites to a new level. Again, this begs the question, is Flash really necessary?

Do you really want people to return to your website?

You will be very subjective as you develop your Flash website. Try to put yourself in the shoes of those that use it; if you only expect them to use your site once then the user may wade through your preloaders and animations. But what if you expect them to come back? Can you really expect people to use again and again and again?

If you strip away all the bad parts of Flash you’re left with HTML

In their defense Flash developers will often say their website is okay in Flash as they’ve not used any fancy animation, they’ve broken it up into several movies and the loading times are low. That begs the question, why didn’t they just use HTML?

If after reading those points you still feel your website is better produced entirely in Flash there are a few things you should bear in mind. Always provide a HTML-only alternative preferably generated from the same data source as your Flash movie (e.g. database, XML file). Always keep your file size as low as possible and as a rule-of-thumb never use the most recent version of the Flash player – although the Flash player is widely distributed don’t count on people having the latest version.

Flash has been instrumental in bringing media-rich content to our browsers and I have created many Flash sites myself. I do think though building a website in 100% Flash requires careful thought and is not something you should rush into.

For more help regarding Flash, call me on 07843 483 078 or get a free quote now!

Tim Bennett is a freelance web designer from Leeds. He has a First Class Honours degree in Computing from Leeds Metropolitan University and currently runs his own one-man web design company, Texelate.