Why Flash-based Websites are Bad

So you’re working on a brand spankin’ new website design, and the client starts asking questions like: Hey this [insert Flash site] is really cool looking, can you make my site like that? -or- Hey my [son/daughter/relative/friend/etc.] was telling me we should put this Flash thing on our website, can you do that? I believe it is your job as a knowledgeable designer and as a resource to your client to explain to them the full story behind using Flash in a website.

Here’s a brief summary from Wikipedia on the problems with Flash:

“Criticism of Adobe Flash have included questions of its usability, the problems Flash-laden pages cause for those with disabilities, security issues, limited platform compatibility, performance and compatibility issues on certain platforms, the inability for search engines to index data contained in Flash binary data, its use as a means to restrict access to content and the implementation of DRM.”

Source(s):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobe_Flash

Now for some clients that text looks like a bunch of mumbo jumbo but the basic idea behind that paragraph is that Flash was originally created as a multimedia component to be used on the web for videos, music, photos, and other rich content. Oh and did I mention that Flash doesn’t work on many mobile devices (PDAs, Itouch/Iphone, etc.), blocking potential users/customers from your site.

Here’s another example of the MTV.com website, where a Flash-based website was built, and eventually thrown out for an HTML site:

After a 9-month experiment with a Flash website and lots of complaints, MTV.com has redesigned its site in HTML. The site has also dropped the autoplaying video player embedded in the home page.

About nine months ago, we went all Flash with our Web site. It was a technical marvel and it was indeed flashy. But, it was also something of a headache for a lot of users, so we were told. Beyond the obvious new look, here are a few key things about the new site that we’re proud to deliver:

It’s faster!
This new HTML version will allow you to get to the pages that you want more quickly.

Simplified navigation!
We made the global menu easier to understand and we better organized the site, too.

No autoplaying video!
Gone is the persistent upper left corner video player that was a hallmark of the Flash site.

Source(s):
http://www.cyberjournalist.net/news/004180.php

I’m not saying that you should abandon or avoid Flash in your website designs, but you need to use it sparingly.  Use Flash to add additional graphics or media content to your site, including but not limited to: animations, advertisements, Rich Internet Applications, and other multimedia type presentations.

When you do use Flash in a website design you need to make sure that you are detecting the user’s Flash Version (if installed), NOT using embed tags (for W3C compatibiliy and accessibility), using an Object tag instead, and providing Alternate Content for users without Flash or search engines coming to your site.

So, what does all of this mean? It doesn’t mean you can’t use Flash, you just need to use Flash sparingly as a multimedia tool to enhance your website and web content. Flash should not be used to build an entire website, that is what HTML and CSS were designed for, and that is what search engines and users are expecting.

35 Replies to “Why Flash-based Websites are Bad”

  1. I more or less totally agree with you here. Although there are some sites that flash works well on, but generally HTML is the best tool for the job.

    As Jerry points out, there are also issues relating to SEO. You can get around this by putting html into the noscript tag for search engines to read.

  2. Google has always had a limited ability to index text from a flash file thanks to the Adobe Flash Search Engine SDK, which will take a flash file and spit out and text in a big jumbled mess.

    The most recent development is that Google is also able to recognize links within Flash files, this is definitely a step in the right direction, but it means that all of your content is indexed and thrown into 1 page that can really hurt your search engine score.

  3. This is a very biased and somewhat uneducated point of view – typical of flash haters.

    I’ve been working with flash for 10 years now, and seen it grow from a very basic timeline animation tool to a fully fledged dynamic RIA environment.

    It is one of the most powerful tools available for eLearning, and provides some of the most engaging user experiences.

    There are times, obviously when flash is not the best solution for a website – but there are many others when it is.

    As with all design, you should assess each job on the merits of it audience and intended use.

    With regard to accessibility, flash can be made just as accessible as other web technologies – and in some cases more so.

    Oh, and flash can be made to be easily indexed by search engines….

  4. While I do agree that the article may be slightly biased, it’s biased for good reason. For every 1 good Flash-based website there are 10-20 terrible sites.

    I can’t complain too much as I work with a lot of clients that are having problems with a flash-based website they had designed for them. Flash can be made to be indexed by search engines, but it’s not necessarily easy, and the results can be unpredictable.

    The other problem with Flash can be the large file sizes and download times. I’ve seen large flash sites that take forever to load with loads of images, videos, and animations. Oh and did I mention it doesn’t work or can be unpredictable on mobile browsers (e.g. IPhone).

  5. For every 1 good HTML site there are THOUSANDS of bad ones…..

    Basically the problem is ubiquitous with all web technologies – and as I said already you should always use the correct one for the product you have to deliver.

    With this in mind, the no-flash-on-iphone isn’t a big issue. I don’t need to browse sites that are big multimedia experiences on my iPhone – that’s not what mobile browsing is for. So no flash on phones isn’t an issue.

    Furthermore, large files need not be an issue – and certainly these are campfire tales from the bad old days of flash and everyone on dial up – but again we’re back to good flash sites vs bad and good programming vs bad.

  6. Large files are still an issue! I know many internet users that are still using dial up or comparable connections, not to mention that anyone visiting on a mobile browser probably doesn’t have the greatest connection either.

    Even with a speedy DSL connection at home some flash sites are painful to load, and as I covered in my previous article on “How fast does your site load?” your site needs to load in around 4 seconds or less to keep your visitors from giving up and going elsewhere. Many of the Flash (and other new web technology sites!) that I see take much longer than 4 seconds to load (I’ve seen AJAX sites take well over 30 seconds to load).

    I agree to some extent on the IPhone part. I don’t need to see some big multimedia production on my IPhone, but if a site doesn’t provide some sort of alternate content I get nothing (norobots.co.uk for example).

  7. One thing i know for sure if sites load slow people just leave. They also hate sites with ads that slow site down.

    You want site to load fast even if they use dial up instead of dsl so you get people to see what site has to offer. It is so hard getting people to your site so you might as well make sure they stay long enough to see it.

  8. I totally agree with you in that we don’t need big multimeda experiences on the iphone (or other portables), but when a site doesn’t offer any sort of alternative is when we have problems.

    There are still quite a few big name sites that are built completely in Flash, with no alternate content for the IPhone (or anything else that can’t use/doesn’t have Flash).

    And just because a large portion of the general browsing population has Flash installed, it doesn’t mean they have the latest version, or that your Flash detection script will work properly (hate sites that tell me my Flash is out of date when I’m using the latest release).

  9. The biggest issue with Flash outside of usability is that the search engines do not like flash. They have a real difficult time reading it. Everyone wants their sites listed in the search engines and if you develop your entire site in Flash, your site will never get found by the search engines.

  10. One thing i know for sure if sites load slow people just leave. They also hate sites with ads that slow site down.

    You want site to load fast even if they use dial up instead of dsl so you get people to see what site has to offer. It is so hard getting people to your site so you might as well make sure they stay long enough to see it.

  11. A few years back I would have agreed with you about not using Flash as your main web designing software… but now I have to disagree with almost all of it… such as: Flash should be used only sparingly and for portfolios or web sites for entertainment or presentation purposes and not for “business sites” What??????? If you think YouTube and Facebook aren’t real “business sites” then maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree. These two mega-websites are disguised as video-on-demand and social networking sites when, actually, they are advertising media sites. They both use Flash almost entirely due to it’s vast versatility and quick loading time. If they aren’t examples of a good “business site”… what is? Ever tried looking up a video or someone’s image on Google? What comes up first? A Facebook image and a YouTube video, that’s what. Hmmmm… isn’t that interesting…

    The truth is, someone with creative design ability (because Flash is designed for designers) and software knowledge can create ANY type of web site in Flash… and I might add, even MORE types than conventional HTML or JAVA. Using Flash, an experienced and talented designer can turn a “boring” report for some insurance company, complete with risk assessment values and age/mortality charts into an interesting and intriguing place to visit for almost everyone. Something you just can’t do very well with pure HTML… unless you’re a hypnotist and want to put them to sleep.

    The bottom line is, if you know how to use it, and you’re a good designer, Flash has similar SEO visibility advantages as HTML, and always has, because Flash is actually HTML based.

    The one point I do agree with is that Flash is not a good tool to use for mobile surfers. They usually need pure HTML due to the low processing power of most mobile devices. But that’s due to change quickly.

    So, use what you want for your web design… but I say, in most cases “why not use Flash?” when you can have your cake and eat it too. :^)

  12. As pointed out in these comments, for every 1 good flash site is 20 bad ones…and for every 1 good HTML site there are thousands of bad ones. The problem of bad design and usability is NOT limited to a type of technology, it is human nature that only a small percentage of any field are experts.

    Our flash site 100% indexes in all search engines (flash is embedded via swfobject which replaces the alternate HTML content, takes 5 minutes to set up, all crawlers index the HTML just as any other site). It is also viewable for devices without flash (they see specialized content for their device)

    Flash is NOT larger to download. It is actually smaller and faster. Flash’s .swf bytecode stores data for equivalent layouts many times more efficiently than HTML/CSS’s ASCII formats. Statements about flash being large and slow are the equivalent of saying “cars with painted flames go faster”. No they don’t…faster cars have a higher percentage of owners that paint flames on their car…but painted flames themselves have no bearing on the car’s speed. And likewise the sites chosen to be made in flash tend to be promotional microsites, photography sites, etc that simply need more image based content to show…but flash itself does not make for any larger of a site.

    To be honest every single limitation pointed out about flash is a myth that comes from not knowing how to properly use it. And like is pointed out in these comments, that problem is just as rampant in HTML sites as in flash.

    Even Steve Job’s complaints about flash being a CPU hog are untrue. Flash only uses more CPU on apple devices, and only because apple specifically blocks flash from accessing GPU rendering! In tests on systems where flash is allowed equal access to the GPU for rendering as HTML5 video players are (like all windows machines) flash actually outperforms HTML5 video using less resources.

  13. Nice article. Flash sucks the end user alot. It is good for presentations, but not good for the web.
    When your entire site is on the Flash the search spiders doesn’t understand what your site is all about, In other words it is not good for SEO.
    Using a flash object in website is ok which can’t be done by the other option… but if you are using a flash object for a picture library or gallery for for sliding the images… Try to use JQuery…. That’s a better option.
    All in short as a developer I don’t like flash for websites at all.

  14. the way i see it is flash just plain useless beyond the video playback / audio playback. But now HTML 5 & jquery allow to eliminate flash even for the video playback. For those who want swooshy effects for menus etc, js is capable of doing all that without having users to see the annoying get flash player plugin

  15. Excellent post – you have very succinctly managed to communicate why the use of flash should be restricted to enhancing some elements on the page, rather than the delivery of the entire website.

    I honestly think that Flash causes more hassle than it does to enhance the web, in general terms (and this comes from someone who played heavily with flash back in the day!).

    Any developer/designer worth their salt would help explain the benefits of being in HTML and CSS with a sprinkling of JQuery goodness for added flavour. Yeah Flash has it’s purpose, but anyone still delivering websites totally driven by Flash are showing their age and ignorance.

    Wake up and smell the coffee 😉

  16. I get frustrated because my clients will view web template sites and want flashy Flash sites. They forget repeat customers get VERY annoyed at having to endure the glitz and campy music just to get a phone number. Repeat customers are generally 80% of their customer base (according to the 80/20 rule). Design first for repeat customers.

    Clients also overlook the fact that a site is a waste of money if it can’t be found easily on search engines, or updated regularly. This is one of the reasons I’ve been steering clients toward a WordPress site they can continue to update themselves, and update their own CMS if it’s an commerce site.

    Flash forces the web user to scroll so they can read more text in a little box. It’s difficult to print out info from the site (which many people still do to share the site info in meetings, etc.). Anything that adds difficulty for the user, creates a slow-down in the sales process. No matter how glitzy the site appears, that’s bad.

    Flash can be a good choice for portfolio or interior design sites where there’s not much to say, but lots to see. Most of my customers, however, need text-rich sites.

  17. Hi, sorry but I have a problem with the title.
    Flash is a proprietary format, not a W3C endorsed standard.
    Hence Flash is *not* part of the Web.
    So talking about a “Flash website” is then a non-sense.

    I used an OS without Flash support for a decade (BeOS), as well as others (GNU/Linux, Haiku…), and even in those which do support it I usually disabled for obvious reasons:
    http://revolf.free.fr/img/why_I_banned_flash.png
    http://revolf.free.fr/img/why_flash_sux_also_on_osx.png
    http://revolf.free.fr/img/why_flash_sux_even_on_linux.png
    I consider having to use Flash to be a technological discrimination, since the Web is meant to “deliver information to everyone regardless of the platform” as Sir Tim Berners-Lee says, and Flash is just the opposite (including the part about information, it conveys the look first).

    I usually spend hours trying to explain that to people and sadly only when I exhausted all the ethical reasons I get them to get it by saying “it doesn’t work on the iPhone” and that alone is already frustrating enough.

    So no, just don’t use Flash, not when it is necessary for the site functionality at least.
    Proper video on the Web should use tag in the simplest way until it’s official, and fallbacks, including links to the file for external players for accessibility reasons. Having to dig a site for the url to the stream because people is painful. Thinking Flash or some other DRM would stop copying is an illusion anyway, it only hurts people who want to watch.

    Please, don’t hurt the Web !

  18. In this article, the author suggests to use Flash for multimedia purposes. I wonder if a programmer should use HTML5 instead? HTML5 loads faster and less likely to crash. The only down side is that older browsers do not handle HTML5 well.

    I can see Flash is useful for specific application based functionality. For example, in Gmail, you can attach a file from an email by simply dragging the file from desktop to the browser to the email. This is done by flash and it works great.

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