Adobe Flash sites seem to be all the rage these days. For those who haven’t heard of Flash, or perhaps have seen it but don’t know what it’s called, Flash is usually an animation delivery format that provides web visitors with a very rich video or audio presentation.

Flash Has some Major Drawbacks

If you are big Flash fan, we might suggest that you don’t read this article. Flash has it’s place within the web site community, just not for designing web site with. Flash has some amazing capabilities to deliver interactive video, audio, and animation whilst retaining a relatively small download.

It also has some major weaknesses:

Not everyone has the Flash plugin. Version 4 browsers ship with flash integrated into the browser, but we’ve already discussed that no matter what you do, not everyone is going to have the latest browsers. Sites developed entirely in flash are going to pop up a “Get the Plugin” box before the user even sees one page of your site. Novice users may not know what that means, or they may not want to wait through a long download just to see your site. Web users simply aren’t that loyal. Would you wait 40 minutes or so to download a plugin so you could view a site that you weren’t even sure had the content you were interested in? Not a chance.

Flash forces people to travel through your site on your terms. While this may seem like a great idea to you, your users WILL HATE IT. They cannot use the back and forward buttons of their browsers, and they cannot open links in new windows. Links don’t change color once they’ve been visited, as text links do, so they have to rely on their memory to tell them what parts of the site they’ve been to already. They can’t copy or paste links into their bookmarks. They can’t use the Find or Search feature in their browsers to quickly scan the page for their area of interest. Flash text is not searchable. From a usability standpoint, this is awful. Web users’ attention spans are short, and if they get frustrated using your site, they will leave.

Many Flash sites that look like television commercials. The web is not TV, but a lot of web developers seem to want to treat it that way. People are used to clicking through at a rapid pace to find what they want, and when they are required to sit back and “watch” a 3 or 4 minute movie, they’re going to give up long before it’s over.

Flash is small, but not that small. Flash certainly can deliver video and audio in a smaller download than traditional media formats, but file sizes still creep up quickly. Users on dial-up connections (and there are a lot of them out there) may not have the patience to load a 300K movie for each page. They’ll have to wait several minutes between each page change before they can do anything… Will they?

Search Engines merely turn away

Search engines can’t index Flash content. To a site owner or company, this should be the most important of all! If the entire site is designed in Flash, search engines cannot “read” it when they spider the web, because the text is actually part of the Flash movie, not straight HTML. So, the search engine skips it and moves on to the next site.

So when should Flash be used? Is there a good use for Flash at all? Absolutely! Flash is great for making presentations, interactive online games, cartoons, and movies. And, when your user clicks on one of these items, they know they are entering Flash content, and they have the choice to do so.

Flash content is great if it is used in the right place and for the right reason. It isn’t a good medium for designing and entire web site. People are going to tire of the flashy bells and whistles very quickly, and more often than not, they’ll wish they could just click through your site to find what they want, instead of waiting for each Flash page to load.

Summary

Flash benefits:

  • Interactive video, audio, and animation in a relatively small download

Flash drawbacks:

  • Not everyone has the plugin installed
  • Forces users to navigate site on your terms, not theirs
  • File sizes are larger than standard html
  • Search engines do not index Flash content

If you use Flash, provide an non-Flash option if possible.