Flash Websites Suck!

I realize that the title of this post is a very wide and sweeping claim, but hear me out – I have quite a few good reasons for why I hate Macromedia Flash-based websites. I don’t think I have always disliked Flash, but lately the hatred has grown. There are just so many things to hate:

  1. Flash websites go against the true nature of the Web! This point will probably be the easiest to disagree with, but it’s also a more subtle point. How does the web work? You basically move along by clicking on hyperlinks, from page to page and site to site. What happens if you want to go back to a certain page? You can enter a URI, you can use a back button, or a bookmark, lots of ways. Flash breaks this functionality! You can’t really link to a “part” of a Flash site. Sure you can click links out of the Flash, but they aren’t standard links either – they are not picked up by link crawlers, and they don’t conform to the display standards set in your browser. You don’t always notice this, but it drives me nuts when you need to actually interact with links in a “normal” fashion.
  2. Flash sites are slow and take forever to load! Basically when I load a Flash website, and see some sort of progress bar or percentage, the website is saying to me “I think I’m so great you’re going to have to wait until I am good and ready to be displayed!” What the heck is that? When I visit a web page, I want the page to load, not the entire site! And Flash sites that show the progress bar just for looks piss me off even more. I have high speed for a reason morons!
  3. Flash sites require you to learn a new interface each time! I admit, this point is also sort of easy to argue against, but think about it. How different are HTML-based websites? Really different? Not really. They typically all have some sort of textual or graphical menu along the top or one of the sides. Almost all of these websites are fairly similar in the way you navigate them. Flash sites on the other hand are completely different! Some sites want to you click different objects in a 3D world, others have pictures with no words. The links are often scattered around the Flash animation which means I have to hunt around. And the most annoying part of Flash navigation is that often times you click a menu item, only to be shown a submenu with no way to get back to the original menu! It’s frustrating to say the least.
  4. Flash sites don’t “fit” my screen! Most websites will resize depending on how big or small my browser is, and how large or small my screen’s resolution is. Not so with Flash sites! Almost every Flash site I have come across has a set size, and too bad if your screen/browser size doesn’t work out.

Those are the main things that bug me about Flash sites – as you can see, they are pretty logical and straightforward. There’s some other minor things that get under my skin too:

  • Lots of Flash sites don’t have a text-only or HTML-only equivalent!
  • Why must every musician or band in the world have a difficult to use Flash site?
  • Most of the time trying to copy text from a Flash animation is impossible.
  • I realize it’s hard to get a browser that doesn’t have Flash, but requiring a user to install a plugin to see any of a website is kind of dumb, Flash or not.
  • Show me the source! Sometimes I like poking around the HTML, CSS or javascript – it’s a useful way to learn from others. I can’t see the source of a Flash site though!

I really don’t care how good you think Flash will make a website look. I’d take usability over looks any day (with very, very few exceptions), and that’s really why I hate Flash sites.

8 thoughts on “Flash Websites Suck!

  1. Brad – thanks for the pointer. I really like the navigation on that site, and it didn’t take long to load, but it still fails in my book.

    What if my favorite picture was the 67th? I can’t link to it…I have to link to the page and tell you to click on the page arrows until 67 appears so you can click on it, which isn’t exactly ideal.

    There’s also no text/HTML alternative.

  2. I agree with a lot of what you say, and I imagine Jakob Nielson would too.

    I’m not sure about the scalability thing through, since Flash is great for scaling so I’m not sure why all those site would fix the movie size.

    I think flash is great for being a piece of content in a site – usually an animation, especially a tour or a lightweight demonstration. It does for static webpages, what the Harry Potter world does for wizard cards.

    On a related point – there’s been a lot of whizz-bang about XAML and the Expression editors from Microsoft lately. Fantastic stuff, but I worry that it will raise the same issues that you have raised about flash – inconsistent and wildly unintuitive interfaces. Just when everyone has figured out how to get round the average app..

  3. That’s a good point – I hope Microsoft doesn’t come up with a Flash knockoff. Flash has some great attributes, but they could be applied in much better ways, like you say as part of a lightweight demonstration or to replace what would normally be an animated GIF.

  4. Great blog Mack! I feel the same way about full flash sites. I love how they look but do not like the fact that they are thier own site within a site.

    If I want to send a friend a link to a certain page of a flash website chances are you will not beable to. You will have to link to the homepage and tell your friend what link to click.

    Mack, summs it up the best:
    Flash websites go against the true nature of the Web!

  5. Hi, interesting post, I thought I’d ad my two cents (well two pence anyway). I’m a multimedia designer and I work with photography, animation, video, web design, design for print etc etc.

    I’m going to go ahead and tackle these points in the order they were written as I feel that flash sites are getting a bad wrap here!!

    1) With regards to flash sites breaking the functionality of the web… This point I do largely agree with, it’s a shame that flash links aren’t picked up by crawlers and that you can’t often link into particular pages. I don’t feel it’s fair however just to say that this is a fault with flash, surely it shows a lack of development in the companies developing the crawlers in the first place! Many internet technologies are simply too slow to adapt to this new medium, as the web continues to develop and connection speeds get faster I’m sure that this will be rectified and flash sites will be able to integrate more fully with the original web ethos. Macromedia can’t be blamed for trying to make people change the way they think about the web, if nobody did that then we would never advance!!

    2) The fact that "flash websites are slow and take forever to load" as a flash website designer myself I find this a very interesting point. A flash website that takes a long time to load is like an html page that has an un-optimised picture on it. It’s not the fault of the software or the apparatus; it’s purely down to bad design!! Any web designer worth their salt should be able to have a flash page load as quickly as an html page unless there’s a huge amount of ‘rich media’ on it (and if there is a lot of rich media then it would take a long time on html anyway!). For many sites that are very complex and have rich media content flash is often the only true way to display this effectively and with the full functionality required to operate it.

    3) Flash sites can’t be blamed for introducing new interfaces; again this is down to the quality and the professional capability of the designer. The fact is there is nothing stopping flash designers using exactly the same interface as every other website out there, it’s just that many choose not to… surely there’s a reason they have chosen not to!! Also in my opinion the navigation of a site should suit the type of site, whilst I agree that many sites use over complicated or unclear navigation systems that’s just because they’ve been made badly, I almost always tailor the navigation system to the site that I’m making but I always try to make it as simple as possible to understand and sometimes it makes more sense than the html equivalent! Things like developers not putting a back or home button on their pages don’t mean that flash sites suck; they just mean that the site developer sucks!! It could just as easily happen to an html based site.

    4) I absolutely hate the fact that flash sites are appalling at resizing to fit the screen and I do think that this is something that macromedia really need to sort out. However if you know where to look you can get flash resizing tools and as the site developer embed a resolution detector and voila you can fit to screen just like html (I’m trying to do this with my home page currently so don’t know if it works yet). As a multimedia designer a lot of the sites I work on are very graphically rich usually photographs rather than vector images, I size these images according to their resolution and quite frankly I often don’t want someone to come along and view my site on a 32inch screen and blow my images up so large you can count the pixels, for this purpose I think that flash locking down the size to the way it was made can be useful, but I would like to be given the option!!

    Nearly done… onto the bullet points!

    1) I don’t know whereabouts you are writing this from (should check but am getting tired of typing!) but in the UK we have had an act called the DDA (disability discrimination act) passed for quite a number of years now, this states that all new non html sites should have the option of viewing an html equivalent. As I’m sure you will have noticed most NEW British sites do and all educational and government based sites do. Hopefully this will soon become a global movement as I strongly agree that people with disabilities should not be bullied out of viewing certain sites. All of the sites I make have a DDA side although it’s usually just the essential information.

    2) Every musician or band in the world must have a flash site because musicians and bands are CREATIVE and will often have a corporate identity and an image to uphold! And that is after all one of the main reasons not to use dull HTML for everything!

    3) My text is my own, get you’re pilfering hands off! But seriously, if you’re quoting from a site then I’m sure it can’t be too much trouble just to type it out…like back in the old days when we used to write with pens and read from books. The only reason that flash sites should have this type of text is so that screen readers can read them (instruments used by the hard of sight) and if the site is DDA compliant then the text should be in that side of the site anyway.

    4) Plugins are annoying, but as you said yourself it’s pretty rare to find a browser without a flash plugin already installed! again this shows how software developers are beginning to accept and integrate flash more and more, once again this is not the fault of flash, simply that the companies have been too slow to catch up!

    5) Quite frankly I don’t want people poking around the source code of my site!! I don’t want to spend hours and hours developing a fantastic and complicated application or device just for someone to come along and steal it! I’m all for the freedom of information and open sourcing but I’d much rather someone emailed my and asked my rather than me minding my own business and suddenly finding everyone’s got an exact replica of my site! If you see a photograph on a website you don’t demand to know what shutter speed, f/stop/ film iso etc it was taken at, if you want to know then ask nicely!

    After reading back through what I’ve just written I sound like I’ve been a bit aggressive in my response, I apologise if that’s the case, I just feel quite passionately about this area. I think there is no such thing as a bad flash site only a bad site designer. I also believe that the technical problems that flash invokes are only because of the inability for the majority of software applications to keep up with flash. This is probably partly to do with the number of people that are so afraid of anything other than html. I strongly believe that the only reason that there are so many bad flash sites is because it is much harder to make a good flash site than it is to do the equivalent in html. I think that we should embrace allow the new web authoring techniques in order to allow the web to develop… it can be so much more than it is now if we try and push it!

    I’d love to hear your responses to this, let me know if you think I’m wrong or right!

  6. Thanks everyone for your responses.

    Jon – very good response, not too aggressive at all! I’d much prefer to have someone who’s passionate about it leave me a reply.

    Sounds like some of the points we agree on, and most of the others can be attributed to the designers of the kind of Flash sites I talked about. I think that’s probably pretty accurate. Macromedia has created a technology, and the tools for using that technology. It is of course up to the designer or user of the tools to make sure they use the technology in an appropriate manner! This is also a very difficult problem to solve, because we can’t exactly force a Flash designer to do things a certain way (not to mention that we don’t want to stifle any creativity).

    Just a couple of other things:

    – I know that certain governments have rules on accessiblity (I’m in Canada btw) but they are typically very difficult to enforce.
    – I still don’t agree with your point on musicians. Surely they can show they are creative and cutting edge without having to resort to Flash? And as a fan, I’d rather have a website that lets me do what I want quickly than a website that I need to play around with to learn the interface.
    – I can understand your point about the source code. As a programmer myself, I know that it sucks when people just up and take your stuff. I guess my point is that HTML, CSS, Javascript, etc are all available when browsing a website, so why does Flash have to be different? Especially when it fairly often accomplishes the same things.

    Anyway, I really appreciate the response! I know there are a TON of people who use Flash, and there are lots who use it very well. It’s unfortunate for all of us I guess that there are those few who design things poorly.

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