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Deciding on HTML or Macromedia Flash

Flash technology was introduced in 1996 by Macromedia Company (part of Adobe now). It was meant to be an efficient way to create nice looking animations using vector graphics, with a file size light enough to be used for websites. Flash technology became a powerful programming and graphic environment for not only animations, but big websites, e-commerce solutions, online gaming, mobile phone graphics and much more. In fact, pretty much all available online services can be done in Flash.

Flash’s main advantage was “the look”. In the old, dark days of hardcore “html” flash was something fresh, new, pretty, and interesting. Suddenly, the internet that was primarily the source of information, also became visually attractive - and it didn’t matter that it sucked up all the transfer power from dial-up modems. But was it worth using?

Well, it looked like almost the perfect solution. The content of the website could be presented in a new, fascinating way and the only issue was connection speed. Flash websites were unfortunately slow to download. When the average internet speed increased it seemed there was nothing to stop flash from becoming the major internet technology.

But then Google spoilt the party. In 1998 Googles search engine was introduced, and very quickly ruled the Internet. The problem with flash animations (or full websites) was that they were embedded in html code as a single object, so the source code of these websites only contained the meta tags, header and few lines of flash embedding code. Googles analysis algorithms ware designed for carefully studying websites source code, and based on that Google wouldn’t be able to rank Flash sites in its search results. Flash websites appeared to Google as “empty” so they wouldn’t rank well (unless they were propped up with huge amounts of links, or had text hidden behind the flash.. but thats a different story.).

In the next few years Google became the King of the Internet, and everything that didn’t comply with its standards was marginalised. At that time, Flash websites were becoming less and less popular, even though Flash technology evolved to become an amazing programming environment.

But despite Flash and Google not getting on, there were other factors that made Flash technology less attractive.

While focusing on the look of the animations, many web design companies overlooked the flash websites usability. For example, the “Back” button in the browser simply wouldn’t work properly, because it would take user to the previous website - not the step back on the page visited. Animations were also distracting users attention from the content.

Flash sites were generally slower than html websites, and very often badly built. In many cases, Flash animated content blocked all interactivity and users were doomed to watch TV-like presentation instead. Flash intros were (and are!) especially annoying, they infrequently contain any useful information and increase the load time of websites. Being driven by “creativity”, flash developers often ignored all website standards like navigation etc, so users were even more confused. No wonder that all sorts of flash blockers became equally popular to flash players!

Is Flash any good today?

Simple answer: Yes of course. In fact it is much better than it used to be. Fast Broadband connections make flash websites easier to download, and thankfully, modern flash developers are much more likely to do their homework. Modern flash websites are usually much more intuitive than before.

However, if you decide to have your website completely in Flash, there are a couple of ways to help it rank in search engines. One solution that was once very widely used was to make a html version of the site as well. There are many reasons for that - Google is one of them, although it is becoming much better at reading the text content in Flash files. Screenreaders cant yet read Flash, however!

One almost ideal solution - make your website content in HTML, but keep all interesting stuff in Flash. Top Banner, small banners, image gallery etc – all can be done in Flash with no harm to SEO, and your client will be very impressed by both your skills and taste, the site will rank as well as a basic HTML site, and screenreaders will be able to read your content. Win!

If you use Flash for the navigation on your website, we would recommend also having HTML links to the same pages – although Search Engine spiders can now follow Flash links, we have yet to see hard evidence that they take the link’s anchor text into account.

If you want to go to town with a HTML website, and have some areas of its text looking superb – and still be readable by search engines and screenreaders, you may wish to read about Sifr font replacement.

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