Friday, October 7th, 2005

Flash in disguise: Why I want my browser environment please!

Category: Editorial

I just went to Brightcove, a new Web 2.0 company (of course), founded by Mr. Jeremy Allaire (good guy).

When you go to the home page, you have this weird feeling where it looks like a normal webpage, but something is wrong.

But, then you try to use it like a normal web page, and it breaks:

  • RSS link: I can’t right click on the RSS feed icon and use my context menu to add it to my feed automatically
  • Links: The links are weird. They don’t mouseover like normal, and again, I don’t have a normal context menu… but a crippled one.
  • More links flipping my world: Also, a friend pointed out that if you go to the “Company” section, the current “link” is the one with the underline, and the true links have none! Absolutely the opposite to what you would expect.

My entire browser world is taken away from me. None of the numerous browser plugins that go cool things, and let me work the way I want too, are allowed to play nice.

The reason? This is a web page in disguise as a Flash file :)

This entire page is an <embed src=”brightcove.swf” …> wrapped in a table (with the usual object for those browsers).

Now, I have nothing against Flash. I think it is great technology, and you can’t argue with its reach. I even think that it plays into our Ajax world. It is great to have Flash in our toolbox, able to use the odd Flash component here and there, and tie it into the web page via the Flash bridge. Ironically, we can even use Flash as a cache storage (no visuals at all!).

However, why would you break every users world to get this functionality? Sure there are some nice effects. Sure you may not have to worry about browser incompatibility, but really? Wasn’t there an easier way to get a video of a person in their profile instead of a static picture? :) Very Harry Potter.

Isn’t Web 2.0 about participation? This Web 2.0 should let us participate again. Let me wield my mighty greasemonkey ;)

I like the idea of BrightCove… the more ways to get content out there the better! Come on internet TV!

Posted by Dion Almaer at 1:09 am
10 Comments

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There is a simple middle ground for this: Use HTML when appropriate (text) and Flash when appropriate (navigation, animation, rich interaction, etc). Use JavaScript to bridge the two. I hate to sounds like a grinch, but I really don’t see much reason for needing AJAX when Flash + HTML works so well!

Comment by Patrick Lightbody — October 7, 2005

Patrick –

I agree with the notion of using the bridge etc.

But for doing something like ajax-serverside validation, why would you want to use Flash? Much nicer to just say to WebWork that you want it to do server side validation via ajax no?

Ajax allows you to tie your nice “standard” widgets to use a rich architecture (speak back to the server whenever you want and get a small bit back).

I don’t want to have a flash widget all the time where I lose things that my browser gives me (e.g. drop down showing my email to select in a textbox).

I think the middle ground for me has Flash coming along a bit later (complexity wise). There are many use cases where ajax can work just fine.

Dion

Comment by Dion Almaer — October 7, 2005

Another important negative side effect: with Firefox you cannot resize the text on the page at all (ctrl-+ / ctrl–).

However Opera manages to resize the entire Flash applet quite nicely: I am impressed!

Comment by Erik Bruchez — October 7, 2005

i swear to god, i just dont get ajax at all. flash cacks all over it.

i was doing flash+asp apps 5 years ago, doing everything ajax offers and much much more. i honestly cant see why anyone would choose ajax over flash

Comment by bloop — October 7, 2005

Did you notice in his bio that he was basically responsible for the introduction of Flash MX at Macromedia. That should tell you why he is so Flash oriented :) I agree though, flash makes sites difficult to deal with sometimes. If only flash would be able to pass some of the context control to the browser, maybe our problems would be solved.

Comment by Chris — October 7, 2005

OK. I have heard a ton of people arguing the Flash vs Ajax point but this one suprises me. dion, it doesn’t seem like you truly know what Flash can do. Ajax and Flash aren’t even in the same league. They have some cross-over capabilities…yes, but they still aren’t in the same league. The cross-over is rich internet applications where Ajax can’t touch Flash. As rich as Ajax can get is no page refreshes (data retrieval on demand). Ok, Flash does that too via XML, SOAP, or Flash Remoting (which is a whole other beast).

With that said, I love Ajax apps. What I don’t love is the fact they won’t work if someone disables JS and a lot of folks do for many reasons (corporate environment, etc). The same can go for someone not installing/upgrading to the proper Flash plugin but, if you truly know Flash you know, the penetration rate is greater than the OS I’m using now to type this message (Windows). That’s awesome and obtained by no other software in the history of software. One can only dream of such results.

To play fair, Flash does lose the context menu for normal right click stuff. The good thing, a good programmer will add the things needed in the content menu via Actionscript. If all you are sweating is losing a context menu…there is no argument.

Ok, the links…hmmm…maybe you didn’t realize all links start out as underlined text. You have to tell the link not to show the underline. So, the links are absolutely normal (just like yours on the right side of this page). The only thing lost, again, is the context menu. Honestly, that is an annoyance as a Firefox user since I like to open things in tabs but the next Firefox will solve that issue. All-in-all, you may think it is functionality with Flash but it has absolutely nothing to do with Flash. I could do that with CSS if I so desired. The good thing about the company section links is it keeps you aware of what the current links is by “delinking” it and giving it a new look. I personally like it.

As for the RSS, if that was an image sitting on an HTML page you could right click and add the RSS then could you? I just tried right clicking on your RSS logo and it did nothing for me, special that is. To do RSS right you need to add code into your page header and the RSS link will show up on the bottom right of your browser window…not the web page.

Aight…time to close this puppy. Do I think Ajax has its place? Yes. Do I think it is going to replace Flash? No. Ajax apps get the same grief Flash one’s do when it comes to loading of data (I see the same lag with Ajax and xmlhttprequest as I do with Flash Remoting). Are they sweet? Absolutely! I love several Ajax apps (including GMail) but it just can’t touch Flash.

So, no more Flash vs Ajax. They can work and play great together. Why can’t they just get along? :-)

(PS – I’m not anti-Ajax…I just don’t buy into the hype. I look at the feature sets and do an accurate comparison of the two. Once you do that…you see they aren’t close to be the same.

Comment by John C. Bland II — October 7, 2005

Points against Flash that AJAX solves:

Cannot be Indexed by Search Engines.
Prevents Deep Linking.
In the US, making an entire website using flash in violates Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act, and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (Accessibility).

Comment by J.E. — October 7, 2005

J.E.,

I’m no expert on Flash. But I do believe if you go to Macromedia’s site (http://www.macromedia.com/resources/accessibility/) you will find plenty of information on making flash 508 Accessible. On 255 check http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/section255.html. This does not pertain to the most websites.

Accessiblity is not an inherent function of javascript or html or flash, but rather how you implement those. So Ajax can be just as non-compliant as the next method.

Also Google indexes Flash http://www.webpronews.com/ebusiness/seo/wpn-4-20040907GoogleCanNowIndexFlashAnInterviewwithMichaelMarshall.html

Deep Linking. Well maybe you need to rethink how a possible Flash Application works. Since data may be pulled in, its not really a link. Keep it in terms of a dynamic site. Sure you pass vars to say get the detail info on a product, but is that deep linking?

The reality is that many even Flash developers often don’t realize these things. Can AJAX render complex data in realtime? Talk to an advanced Flash Developer, like Darron Schall or Aral, or Mike Chambers or Kevin Lynch. I think you will find that Flash is much more and when fully implemented meets all the needs.

But hey, I like AJAX too , because sometimes Flash is not necessary and AJAX serves a better purpose.

Comment by Kevin — October 7, 2005

Poop

Reason? I (user of the web browser) have no control over it. None. Only what the flash developer gives me. 1998 called, they want their media model back.

I see Flash having *some* advanced capabilities, otherwise not scriptable in browsers, for now… however modern browsers will soon have solid support for SVG, SMIL, XForms, Canvas, Ajax, HTML5, etc… it’s only a matter of time before the advantages that Flash trades on are mere comodities in the browser world.

The only way I can see Flash surviving in the long run is if Macromedia adopt some declarative, web-standard compliant format, add good browser scripting of Flash, and work with browser vendors to make Flash objects manifest as first-class DOM nodes… if not, Flash’ll eventually be toast.

Try to understand, web-users are going to want MORE control, not less. Greasemonkey is just the beginning.

I guess the irony is that the boring, pointessly locked-down corporate SOE might be the last bastion of the Flash-based web-app.

Comment by David Toso — October 8, 2005

In response to JE:
“Points against Flash that AJAX solves:

Cannot be Indexed by Search Engines.
Prevents Deep Linking.
In the US, making an entire website using flash in violates Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act, and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (Accessibility).”

Kevin pretty much answered this but I wanted to second his remarks. All of your points are null.

– Search Engines can index Flash. To be technical, they can’t index AJAX either…only the html it sits on (sits ajax isn’t a visual thing…html is).

– Deep linking is also up to the developer for both.

– Flash is 100% accessible. As Kevin pointed out, Ajax is in the same boat. If I don’t make it (Flash or Ajax) accessible it won’t be.

As said in my previous post, they aren’t even close to being the same. The only thing that is the same is the ability to retrieve remote (or local) data and display it without a screen refresh. Both can be stopped from being viewed in the browser and both have almost the same usability issues. Where Flash excels (well, one of the areas) is the ability to implement rich content which Ajax can’t, natively.

Ajax isn’t a religion and neither is Flash. They can play together (Flash can talk with JS easily)…why can’t we. :-)

Comment by John C. Bland II — October 31, 2005

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