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April 03, 2005

The mis-uses of Flash

Flash is an amazing tool for creating stunningly effective user interfaces, particularly where rich media and video are involved.  But nothing is more frustrating than coming upon a site that ignores principles of good web design and web standards, often to the sole purpose of showing off the author's ability in Flash.  

These misguided Flash developers defeat themselves and their customers by flaunting the very principles that make the Web work so well for so many.  I visited a site for a vendor that sells Flash extensions for Flash developers to include in their projects.  The site is done entirely in Flash - no HTML at all.  I encountered five immediate frustrations that led me not to buy and to write this rant instead.
  • It makes me wait and watch while it progressively draws itself.  Very artsy, but anti-user.  Why does the author think I want to wait for him to load the page, unnecessarily slowly?  
  • I can't use Firefox control-click to open links in a new tab.  I like tabs, I use tabs, and this author decided that when I view his site, I can't use tabs.  Bye-bye.
  • I can't use browser controls to increase font size.
  • I cannot use standard keyboard shortcuts to select links or to scroll the page.  
  • Back button rendered useless -- now I have to rely entirely on the site author's idea of how I should navigate the site.  
As a final self-defeating point, this site is completely invisible to the search engines.  I can't find it in Google, even when I  type in the exact name of the product, the Google search comes up empty.  Flash is opaque to crawlers!

I've become a convert to Flash for rich media, but for standard web design, don't try to reinvent the function of the browser in Flash.  You can't improve the usability, only narrow your users' choices.  According to DoubleClick, over the last year, online users are spending 10% less time on each site, yet looking at 34% more pages of the site during each visit.  What this means to site designers is, don't look for ways to piss off your visitors.  They'll take their browsing, and their business, elsewhere.

Posted by larryb at 11:07 PM [permanent link]
Category: Web and Software Development
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