The Disappearance of Flash Websites
Web Standards may have once fallen behind, but they continued to be pushed forward with the help of the practitioners and those willing to embrace the idea of an open web.
The benefits of Web Standards and why they are slowly taking over
Video has been an important step moving Web Standards broadly forward. Video is one of the few things that has, in the past, only been able to be deliver using Flash. The biggest leap so far has been YouTube’s adoption of the HTML5 video element (albeit a beta), allowing modern browsers to bypass the Flash plug-in and use video native to the browser player.
Modern browser adoption
HTML5 and CSS3 have been a great effort to advance what can be done native to the browser and many browser creators are already implementing the specifications, even when they haven’t been set in stone. We have a lot to look forward to with CSS animations, Canvas, Local storage, and other specifications that are bringing Web Standards into a new era.
Although it will be many years before we’ll ever see 100% of the emerging specifications implemented in the browsers and a large majority of users upgrading to those browsers, if we embrace the progressive enhancement of content, we’re well on our way to pushing the adoption among developers.
Learning to produce progressively enhanced content, giving up pixel-perfect rendering in every browser, and embracing the graceful degradation of sites in older browsers can free up time to concentrate in other areas of development, like accessibility and platform delivery agnosticism.
Designing with progressive enhancement in mind and building your sites from the ground up requires designers and developers to think and plan more for the underlying infrastructure of the site and typically exposes and avoids issues that arise when working from the top down (designing a site and then considering the fall-back).
Smart phone browsers & context delivery
Although the mobile web is still in its infancy, and often an after-thought in the design process, standard-based designs can degrade nicely on phones just as they would for older desktop browsers. In the absence of the Flash plug-in, the site can still be deliver an exceptional experience without much extra effort – something that can be cumbersome with Flash sites.
Because Web Standards are just that, standard agreements in the way code is constructed and served, user agents and scripts from outside the site can be written to access data directly from the HTML. Search engines, microformats, feeds, translation, and bookmarklets all work because of the open nature and consistency between the data, which Flash will usually silo.
Flash does a lot of things well and will do so for years to come Just because Flash driven websites are slowly disappearing, doesn’t mean that Flash will disappear altogether – too much existing content and established infrastructures have been set up to magically vanish. Without vast restructuring or realigning in organizations and processes, plenty of Flash developers will continue to be employed, and plenty of Flash advertising will be published out to those ready to ignore it.
We owe a lot to Flash in the making of what the web is today, and it needs to be given that credit. Where would YouTube and countless other sites be if it wasn’t for Flash and the innovations it brought?
Ease of use
From the opening gate, Flash has been an intuitive and easy-to-use application for both designers and developers with its ability to deliver the simplest of animations, yet scale to serve complex applications.
You can’t argue with the fact that Flash has been, for many years, the only way to deliver rich interactions in a consistent manner across a wide range of platforms and browsers.
Standards aren’t quite there
As much as Web Standards have pushed forward, often we’re stuck supporting older browsers where Flash may be the only way to deliver audio, video, or complex data-heavy interfaces.
Thanks to early adopting web browser creators, we can start using the HTML5 audio and video tag today, but we will still have to plan for a fall-back to Flash audio and video to deliver on older browsers.
The same can be said for the Canvas tag to deliver complex visualizations, 3D animations and games, which, if given the need to support a browser like IE6, providing a decent fall-back can be overcomplicated and Flash just might be the best choice going into development.
As always, your current and potential audience should determine which direction to choose.
Progressively enhanced Flash / Flash injection
The best of the Flash developers take the same approach as the Web Standards crowd, using it as a layer of enhancement to their sites or applications, and if that continues, will still have its place on sites to provide a great experience, deliver to mobile devices, and to reach search engines and other user agent technologies.
The Future of Flash
Adobe has never been the type of company to let a product stagnate and you can pretty much assume that they’ll keep pushing to get Flash on as many mobile devices as they can.
With Creative Suite 5, developers will be able to output Flash Projects as native iPhone applications using the iPhone Packager, and Flash could soon morph from its earliest roots as an animation application to a full-fledged desktop and mobile application development environment with the help of AIR.
It’s more than likely that Flash developers will become even more in demand with the increased necessity in delivering applications consistently between the desktop and mobile devices. They just won’t be creating your run-of-the-mill website.
Both Web Standards and Flash (or other plug-in technologies) are just tools to creating content delivered on the web. Even if Flash development is on the decline for websites, there is no reason that Flash developers should be worried about ever becoming obsolete.
Everything that holds true with creating Rich Internet Applications is applied in any tool that is used, and making the transition to Web Standards development may be easier than you think.
Flash and Web Standards developers have more commonalities than they have differences. Interface and interaction design, typography, layout, graphic design and object-oriented programming are all still valid and important for both mediums.
Developers on both sides of the spectrum struggle with many of the same issues that are faced and in their roles are out to create a great user experience, design intuitive interactions, and make sites easy for our users. All of which isn’t done by the technology itself, but the people behind them.