The Problem With Flash

Flash is a proprietary web technology developed by Adobe Systems used as a multimedia platform to create animated graphics, browser games, and also used for streaming video and audio.

Flash was quite prevalent on the Internet because of its entertainment value. There seemed to be a widespread misconception that using Flash would enhance a user’s experience and add value to a website. However, in practical terms the opposite was true. Because Flash had no real purpose other than to entertain or serve ads, it added nothing to contextual significance, usability, or page performance; and worse yet, it was harmful to sound SEO practices.

Today, the use of Flash for web projects is on the wane for a number of significant reasons.

Flash Issues

First, Flash does not work on mobile devices. It is not supported on Android or iOS since it was decided by the developers that Flash was too much overhead, plus they did not want to rely on Adobe’s proprietary technologies to make it work. Websites are required to be fully functional when viewed on phones and tablets, which is why Google and Apple are recommending the HTML5 standard to serve multimedia applications.

Second, accessibility is an issue with Flash if used to create a website’s interface. For instance, form controls, text selection, scrolling, and right-clicking are inconsistent on a normal browser, and pretty much non-existent if your users are using a screen reader.

Third, performance is severely affected as Flash becomes an obstacle for users. Studies have shown that your landing page has only about 10 seconds to effectively engage a visitor’s attention and guide them towards the important content of your site. When you insert purely decorative animated graphics, they act as unnatural distractions, robbing the visitor’s attention from the real content. If visitors become irritated enough, or the page takes to long to load, they will simply leave.

Less significant, but still important, is the fact that Flash is pure resource-consuming overhead. It adds nothing to usability (for instance, how visitors navigate your site) or performance (how long visitors have to wait before being served the content they are looking for,) but it certainly weighs down pages. In today’s broadband world, page-load times are still as important as ever before. If bottlenecks arise in the Internet due to high network traffic or server problems, then page performance becomes an important factor. There really is no need to make pages extra “heavy” for the sake of costly eye-candy.

But perhaps the most significant reason to avoid Flash is Search Engine Optimization. Search Engines are quite blind to Flash objects. While Google announced back in 2004 that it was getting better at finding text embedded in Flash objects, its algorithm still remains highly biased against Flash content. (When was the last time you saw a Google return a search result, for any term, where the page was all Flash or had a Flash splashpage?) Any serious SEO effort cannot take Flash into consideration.

In a nutshell, here are some reasons why Flash needs to be left out of the equation for your website:

  • Pages load much slower
  • Flash objects cannot be adequately optimized for Search Engines
  • Splash screens without content annoy users
  • Looping objects definitely annoy users
  • Flash reduces accessibility for users with disabilities
  • A browser’s stop button or ‘Esc’ key do not stop animations
  • Navigation visited and unvisited link colors are not displayed
  • 90% of the time, animated graphics are just audio/visual nuisances

The Internet is all about one thing: Information. You have people on one side of the Internet cloud trying to organize it in meaningful ways while, people on the other side, are trying to find what’s important to them as efficiently as possible.