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Why are flash sites bad?
What makes all flash so useless?

 1:30 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hi all,

I'm going to write about why 'all flash' sites are so useless as business websites and hoped I might pick your brains for some ideas....

Okay, the main issues are:

  • Search engines can't see flash content
  • Usability and accessibility get dumped

Anyone care to expand on that?





 1:35 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think that those are the main points Nick, at least they are the most important aspects, and within each there are a few sub-topics.

Also, when you have a completely Flash site, there are other issues. When a user goes to the search engine, they are searching for a particular piece of information or a product. Now, the search engines job is to get this information to the user as quickly and accurately as possible. With a static site, the search engines will usually pull up the page in question, even if it is a few levels deep within the site (some search engines do, some don't). With a completely Flash site, you give this up. You also make the user sit through all of your Flash whiz when all that they usually want to do is get to that piece of information.


 1:37 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

There's a good report you can buy (35 usd) from Jared Spool's UIE called "Making the Best with Flash: Five Best Practices for Creating Engaging Content with Macromedia Flash"

It talks about how not to make sucky flash sites recommending things like "use flash for what it does well" - not for navigation or inherently textual content.

There's more info here: [uie.com...]


 1:41 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

Yes, I don't discount Flash entirely. All things have a place, even <shudder> frames!

It's the dreadful intros that really make me mad, I agree with agerhart: Information is what I want, if I want special effects I'll rent a damn movie!



 1:43 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

stage one...animation is a difficult skill to master...most of the people who have really mastered it are employed full time on large salaries to do nothing but create animations

few of these are employed to make Flash for web sites...for non-dynamic applications there are few instances where Flash is the best option

ergo...most people would be better off avoiding its use...in the circumstances when it is useful it would help the overall standard of the web if more people hired a specialist rather than cobble together something third rate

brotherhood of LAN

 1:43 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

We had some of those great flash threads from a few weeks ago, with some having the opinion that it was the fault of the designer and not the actual flash itself.

The two points you quote from what I remember were the main points for people not choosing to go down a flash road of design. I guess its a catch 22.....because there will be no demand for SE's to index .swf and the like if there are not enough of 'em out there.

I am positive flash can be used in a good way....its just that the fundamentals are not mentioned enough in regards to flash.....unlike the fundamentals of HTML/validation/SE friendly pages that everyone want to be aware of first and foremost.

Maybe if we could at least list the good ways that flash can be implemented we can at least define what is left over and "bad" :)

/off to reference that other flash thread.....


 1:52 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

Things flash is good for:

Explaining the function of you product. You can make users (potential buyers) visualise and understand better what you want to sell them by showing them a short animation than by words or still images.

Funky navigation. You can do cool navigation things with flash, just always remember to have an alternate HTML navigation.


 1:56 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

BOOKMARKING! BOOKMARKING BOOKMARKING! I've seen heavy content Flash sites that made the most convoluted, obfuscated frame site look like a bookmarker's dream come.

I'm evaluating one such site now. How do you tell someone who recently paid $$$$ that their site could not have been made more search engine "unfriendly" if they tried? No way to candy coat this one....

Flash CAN be used for in-site enhancements - very effectively too, but unfortunately there are too many 100% Flash created sites. Some are intended to be no more than what they are: presentations art.

Others, have been created when "marketing" and competitive positioning were the actual goals. These are the sites where the owners wonder why they aren't getting the traffic they need to compete in their market.


 2:02 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

Here is a recent thread on Flash problems.

Flash is excellent for pieces of the entire web site puzzle. All flash sites are the problem. I don't think many people would create an entire website out of one applet. It has its strengths and weaknesses.

As Sinner_G pointed out Flash is excellent for navigation, help files, and graphic module plugins for chats and forums, but it is not a very good content format. Mixing html, server-side code, flash, and other web formats gives you a more rich web environment. I wouldn't paint my house with the same brush the entire project.

Flash needs to be used for enhancing interfaces and not storing content. It is the same as developers placing their content in pictures. Most of us use pictures but know where not to use them. The same should go with flash. It is just to tempting for new developers to go completely flash. That is what makes some Flash sites useless.


 2:04 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

Regarding Flash navigation: It's a big world out there, with room enough for all types of sites and designs.

Yes, sometimes Flash serves the purpose exceedingly well! But I have seen informational sites that deploy complex Flash navigation schemes where simple HTML would serve much better.

And since page size is a factor in most cases (with the exceptions where users are aware of the "heavy content"), why would anyone want a 25-30kb navigation "movie" and then spend additional kb to supply the HTML equivalent?


 2:09 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

Site flow should command navigation. If a site has complicated navigation then the site's flow is not intuitive. I bet if they did create an html navigation it would be just as bad. Flash navigation should enhance the usability by rollover or click expandable catagories. It stops redundant page loads for navigational structures. I would love a good dhtml or flash menu at dmoz. Way too much clicking for me.

I agree with BOL that more fundamentals need to be taught. I have used flash for 5 years. About 1/4 of the sites I create have a flash aspect. Flash is just another weapon in my arsenal.


 2:15 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

I used to use Flash for lots of neat-o effects, but ultimately decided to eliminate it, using aminated gifs instead.

I too get annoyed at Flash intros that I can't circumvent. The first time you see it, it's cool, but after that it's annoying.

Still, I do see a place for it, and I've seen some very good uses for it. I'm thinking about using it again for a non-profit music series site I do every year.


 2:15 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

>>Search engines can't see flash content

this is improving

>>Usability and accessibility get dumped

No - its down to the designer

for instance you can easily create bookmarkable pages allowing back and forward buttons to work


 2:16 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

I like flash navigation as a marketing instrument. If I am involved with the design of a web site whose target group is young, technically savvy and esthetically demanding, I will think of having a flash navigation.

Those targets like flashy things (pun intended ;)) so I give it to them, knowing there IS a trade-off load time vs. gimmicks. As with everything else, you have to find the correct balance.


 2:20 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

>useless as business websites

I think this is the key here. Flash can be really good for entertainment style sites or games but it is very rarley any good for information/business sites in my opinion..


 2:25 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

Show me a bad business flash site and I will show you 10 bad business HTML sites. It is the designers use of flash. Most flash sites are not well thought out, but neither are html sites. Flash takes a lot to master. Most flash designers do not understand action script or dynamic content intergration in flash. It is as hard to master as a programming language. HTML is a much easier tool to use and deploy then flash. just because designers can make some text fly around a screen or buttons change on mouse over doesn't mean you know or even comprehend flash.


 2:48 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

Anyone else remember the first Cre@te Online magazine issue (UK)? I seem to remember it had a "web design expert" advising Amazon to replace it's current navigation with Flash... lol.

OTOH Flash seems the ideal tool for information visualisation/direct manipulation features. ISTR a US car site where when you searched you could then drag "attribute sliders" to widen/narrow your results(?)


 3:58 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

I got asked to optimise a flash site, this site is designed so badly, if you hit back on the browser, you end up out of the site and have to go through a painfull 1 minute intro all over again - and theres no skip intro to save you!

I think klearning have got it just right, though not really an all 'flash' site.


 4:15 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

Yes, I've just been asked to take a look at a magicians site (god I hate magicians) it was absolutely ghastly and real 'my friend knows flash' job. W**kers!

This thing is a joke, not only from a usability/SE point of view, it's just a pile of meaningles crap. Sheesh! The things I do for money ;)



 4:51 pm on Jul 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

Flash is like that old saying: "...when she was good, she was very good and when she was bad, she was BAD!" But in this case... not "bad" in a "good" way! ;)

Yes, it is the designer/developers's responsibility (just as in HTML) but the potential for overkill is too easy. I remember one flash movie I was creating: at 175kb it did everything I wanted but trimmed down to a more usable 100kb, I lost a lot of the pizazz.

This was back when 28.8 modems were the norm. After some soul searching I dumped both versions and went with HTML - the resulting page still gets a few dozen hits per day. It is indexed all over and even has a good number of inbound links. It is VERY search engine friendly!


 11:37 am on Jul 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

If you don't have anything to say, say it with FLASH! Good flash intros are really expensive but are not what most people are looking for.

And that's the main problem: flash pages tend to be static and are updated only reluctantly. I think, it's so much easier to add/update a HTML page than to update a Flash movie.

Some things that annoy me are:

  • I can't see where a link will take me
  • I can't open links in the background
  • Flash intros are as bad as other intros
  • previous/next buttons won't work
  • You can't skip some (sub) intros
  • how about printing?
  • you don't know what you get
  • hard to spot links on Flash pages
  • do your customer's have the plug-in installed
  • annoying background music

If a company wants to provide additional information they can use all the flash they want. But for basic information/product information/virtually anything they should stick to HTML. If I had a lot of time, a fast flat rate and wasn't looking for specific information, then I might like to watch/use some flash pages (or read a book or go to the movies). The problem's that Flash pages tend to get annoying really fast: the cool effect you liked first gets really annoying over time.

Back in 2000, Nielsen wrote an alertbox article called "Flash: 99 % Bad" [useit.com]. After announcing a strategic partnership between Macromedia and Nielsen Norman Group to improve Flash usability [news.com.com] on June, 3rd, he updated this article. On Nielsen' useit site [useit.com], they are looking for "good examples of Internet-based applications and tools implemented in Flash." If only I knew one ... ;)


 12:18 pm on Jul 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

While it's true that it's not Flash itself that's the culprit but the designers who use it, Flash should never be used for navigation -- it definitely shouldn't be used to replace HTML navigation -- and Flash-only sites have lots of problems associated with them. Among them are:

They tend to use lots of bandwidth, and so are extremely slow to download (the majority of Internet surfers, even in the US, do not have broadband). A semi-permanent "Loading..." page is more effective than any normal splash page at filtering out most of your visitors.

Search engines have problems indexing them.

Users have problems bookmarking them.

Browsers have problems printing them.

They require a plugin. Although the Macromedia Flash plugin is widespread, new versions of Flash often require updates. Mr and Ms Average-Surfer actually don't have a clear idea how to download and install a plugin, and once they have (and rebooted), they are unlikely to remember how to get back to your site. Plus the plugin can get corrupted.

The potential for unexpected problems is increased. For example, an acquaintence of mine possesses a browser which pops up an error message everytime a Flash animation is downloaded (but displays the Flash anyway).

What about text-only browsers?

Many of the features that characterize bad Flash sites are down to the designer, it is true. However, Flash positively encourages these things.

In about 80% of cases, the use of Flash is pointless and just slows down the website needlessly.


 10:28 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

If the flash site is designed correctly, it will not slow anything down! Remeber Flash is streaming content and will work on a 14.4 modem if the designer knows what he or she is doing! Flash also works just fine for bussiness sites, with action scripting you can have the most powerful shopping cart in the world. The key is to have html pages that SE's can index, the user never sees these pages. 80% of my sites are pure flash and I have no problem with SE'e.

Just my 2 cents.


 10:49 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

I've visited several interactive online presentations that were stellar in Flash. I recall a Pearl Harbor ditty on nationalgeographic.com's web site and another historical Titanic ditty done on discovery.com's site - both were wonderful and the media type, delivery, and content were perfectly suited for Flash. However, I have suffered through endless spiraling logos and all-effects menus that actually interfered, or otherwise delayed, web site content delivery.

To this I ask, "Who benefits from this?" Does the web site designer revel in the fact they made something join, spiral, spin, or move - with no regard for the point of it all? Do they think the average visitor finds such parlor tricks mesmerizing? Do they think people enjoy being trapped inside simplistic animated intros and menus that only kinda-sorta work?

Or do they think at all?

It's this barrage of cr*p that gives Flash a bad name. Until the proliferation of mediocrity is not status quo, you'll find me hanging out at National Geographic's site, or something like it.


 10:54 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

If I am involved with the design of a web site whose target group is young, technically savvy and esthetically demanding, I will think of having a flash navigation.

Exactly. Don't make your 401k planning or social security benefits site flash-only! I plan on implementing a flash logo and navigation on my site, but it is aimed at 20-to-30-something web designers. The key is to provide everything that is in Flash in html, and make every flash action take you to a new static html page. I wouldn't even think of adding flash, but the vector graphics look coupled with exact font control make it extremely appealing for navigation. I am sure the same people who would are adamant about a Flash nav / html failsafe nav were also condemning the graphical nav buttons replacing text-only links. In both instances, it falls on the designer's shoulders to make it functional and easy-to-use...

(side note: I was supposed to have my site done months ago, so I don't think I'll get around to implementing Flash anything until FlashMX2...) ;)


 6:09 am on Jul 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

Flash is streaming content and will work on a 14.4 modem

A 500kB Real Audio file will "work" on a 14.4 dialup modem, but it will still take just as long to load in the end and will either be very low quality or will play in fits and starts as it downloads.

If you have an entire navigation system in Flash, the fact that it streams doesn't help: I want the navigation to work as quickly as possible, not bits at a time.

I've seen some wonderful Flash animations, some of which do use streaming technology. But they used Flash the way it was designed to be used: vectored graphics and animations, perhaps with some interactive elements, not a fundamental part of the site's navigation but content -- and entertainment at that.

The quickest way to lose my custom is to have me staring at a "Please wait" page for more than about 15 seconds.

The idea of using Flash for animated company logos is at least a more appropriate use for it, but still leaves me cold; mainly because animation is a pretty tacky thing anyway. Most of the arguments against the use of animated GIFs -- increased bandwidth, draws attention away from the content etc -- apply equally to Flash animations, even if Flash animations are usually more elegant.

I understand that for certain kinds of site -- gaming sites, experimental sites, arty sites etc -- Flash may be entirely appropriate. Other than that, use it for entertainment, games (I have a link to a particularly addictive 3D version of Pong if anyone's interested), interactive road-maps, learning tutorials (say, for example, certain pages on a site called something like ScienceForKids), that kind of thing.


 6:15 am on Jul 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

Crikey....I'd better write this article now huh?

I often think that Flash is a tool for web desingners and Website owners.

Not users

It makes designers and owners feel very clever and spiffy but leaves users cold. What a shame...



 6:36 am on Jul 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

Nick, who do you think drives the demand for Flash? It is the customers not the designers. Give your customers a choice between a Nielsen-inspired CSS page and a Flashed-up demo and guess which one they'll go for initially.

OK, OK, they may change their minds once you, as a responsible webmaster, have told them about the various negatives.... but the initial reaction from the lay customer is pro-Flash (as it is pro-animated gifs and pro-java applets). And if you are going in with the CSS design and your rival with the Flash?

Flash is easy to use and abuse, yes, but it is also possible to build things of efficiency and beauty with it. I recently saw a hotel reservations scheme (not sure if I'm allowed to post URL but it's a link from Colin Moock's article on O'Reilly) which I thought was a wonderful use of Flash with a database - and which I would be interested to see any other development tool match in looks and usability...

We don't swear off using .gifs because we see twirly email signs all over the web - we just don't copy them. We don't stop using email because of spam - we just don't send it ourselves. It's the same with Flash - I'm unsure where this "throw the baby out with the bathwater" prejudice comes from...


 6:48 am on Jul 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

Check my earlier posts in this thread. I'm not anti-Flash at all. Everything has it's place.



 6:57 am on Jul 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think the point is (as several people have written in this thread) to use flash in a sensible way. First and foremost, just have your page do a check on the plugins the user has installed. Then you can serve him either the non-flash version or the flash version.

AND watch for the size of your flash. Big files are ok if the user is warned that he might wait for a time, i.e. NOT on the home page.

AND don't use it if an animated GIF would also do the job with a minimal difference in file size.

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