The Pros and Cons of Flash for Small Business Websites
Posted on 16.06.2010
Flash has become a very contentious piece of technology of late. This is primarily because of some decisions made by Apple to not adopt or allow Flash applications of any sort on the iPhone and iPad. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, has been publicly expressing his reasoning for this decision – “Flash is closed and proprietary, has major technical drawbacks, and doesn’t support touch based devices“. If you’re interested, here’s the full Steve Jobs rant on Flash. So what does this mean for small business websites? Beyond Apple products, there are some thing that small business owners will want to consider with regards to developing a website in Flash.
OK so there are some benefits to Flash which I’ll mention first:
- Compatible: With the exception of the iPhone and iPad, most other devices will be able to view Flash content. The current stats say that well over 90% of web browsers support flash.
- Animation and video: Flash started as an animation tool which is still what many consider to be its strength. And flash videos are great because they don’t require a 3rd party media player like Windows Media Player or Quicktime. This means that if you want a highly animated site like a high-end real estate site, you’ll probably use Flash.
- Background music: I wrote an article a while back talking about the challenge with Joomla and background music. It has since been read over 2,000 times with a number of comments. This is because most PHP websites cannot play a continuous audio file because it will restart with each click. Flash does not have this problem so you can have a nice ambient piece of music playing continuously in the background.
- Games: Flash games are becoming more and more popular. Believe it or not, some of the silliest little flash games are out-competing multi-million dollar productions put out by companies like Electronic Arts.
- Special fonts: Web browsers only support a set of a few basic fonts and most PHP/CSS websites can only extend this in a limited fashion. So, if you have a custom font that you want to use throughout your site you might need to consider Flash.
OK, so now let’s look at some of the things that make Flash a challenging proposition for small business websites:
- iPhone or iPad: As mentioned, Flash can’t be viewed on the iPhone or iPad. So, if your site is built with flash and someone is using an iPhone or an iPad, they won’t be able to see anything. More common are flash applications within websites that end up not being visible and just showing up as blank spaces on these Apple devices.
- Search engines: Although Google has made strides to be able to read Flash content, it is still very very difficult to optimize a Flash website for various keywords. Images are especially difficult to deal with because you cannot add Alternative Text to the images. This is my personal grievance against Flash since Yardstick is devoted to website performance and needs to be able to react quickly to changing market or business conditions.
- Usability: Flash websites often have their own internal navigation which means that if you hit the “Back” button in your web browser, you get taken back to the starting point of the Flash website or even worse to the page you were at before you even got to that website. This is a real pain for users and, more often than not, they will just leave your site and not come back.
- Stigma: There is a growing stigma amongst internet users that Flash is “old school” and many users will just go elsewhere if they think a site is Flash. Yes, users are fickle.
- Slow: This flows from the above two points but many Flash sites have a landing page that says “Loading” with a percentage indicator showing you how long until the site loads. Users are getting less and less patient which means that these landing pages are more and more of a nuisance. This is made worse by any website that sees repeat visitors – each time that “Loading” screen comes up, the user is less and less likely to want to come back.
- Tough to manage: There are some content management systems for Flash but they are not as robust as cms’s like Joomla or WordPress. And even then, you’ll probably only be able to manage a few elements or pages of the site. Any custom animations or designs will require your original designer to make the change which will typically cost you an arm and a leg.
So that’s my rant on Flash. Like any piece of technology, it has it’s strengths and weaknesses depending on your intended use. So, be aware and make a wise choice when building your small business website. As always, feel free to comment below and we’ll respond.