Not so Flashy
March 11, 2003 6:41 PM   Subscribe

Users don't like a lot of Flash - Looks like Macromedia's new Web site redesign that utilizes all Flash for its navigation isn't winning any awards with users, especially those running Opera and Apple's Safari browsers. It's nice looking, but I prefer a simpler design like here MetaFilter.
posted by MediaMan (53 comments total)
Flash intros are tired and old 99.9% of the time. I almost always hit skip as soon as one pops up. Check out a brutally bad one right here.
posted by ejoey at 6:49 PM on March 11, 2003

As Flash developers are starting to hit their stride in 2003 in terms of making the web look ... good (or as I see it, making the web look more like an OS) I think it's more than appropriate that Macromedia's site is Flash. I mean, c'mon, they are Flash. It is not appropriate that their site not work with some browsers even with the Flash player installed.

I see a pretty stark line being drawn between marketing sites (Movies, video games, Nike, etc and so on) and information exposition sites in terms of HTML and dynamically driven database display pages on the web.

Some web pages let you draw, search and display information. Some sites are interactive TV commercials. That's just the way it is, no reason to complain about it unless its fundamentally bad design. Some Flash is great (not necessarily "great looking" but "great usability"), some is good, and a lot is bad. The bad stuff will be weeded out or ignored over the long run.
posted by jdaura at 6:56 PM on March 11, 2003

I just had a seizure because of that link, ejoey. You'll be hearing from my lawyer!
posted by five fresh fish at 6:57 PM on March 11, 2003

Flash *can* be very effective if used properly, and if it suits the audience / goals of your website.

I'm still not sure that Macromedia's info site is a good candidate... but I'll give it some time and see.
posted by Stuart_R at 6:59 PM on March 11, 2003

"Lopez said a link to the HTML version is clearly displayed on each page of the Macromedia site."

Really? I didn't see it on their front page.

Now, if it's there under the "accessibility" tab (and it is) what good does it do to have the link to the HTML version buried in a Flash menu? That's more than a little counter-productive and counter-intuitive, isn't it?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:00 PM on March 11, 2003

as much as i support the use of flash (with limits), i can't see any reason why they ( a corporate site with a wiiide audience) would decide to do this at this time. flash is a great tool but like anything else, it needs to rely on the systems which it depends on. they should have known better than to go all flash this soon. i'm running on cable (home) and t1 (work) and notice a sharp decrease in load times.
posted by poopy at 7:03 PM on March 11, 2003

They could at least write CSS well. I had layout issues all over the place & could not see information on most of their software with Mac's Safari browser. I refuse to load up IE to look at Macromedia's website.
posted by password at 7:08 PM on March 11, 2003

IE runs it fine, but moz with popup interdiction seems to ruin its javascript or something. Which really sucks because i use mozilla and I'm a flash developer by trade, so I do use their site on occasion.

Flash has its uses, and it's best suited for promotional / educational type material, but not for a site that gets "used" regularly. Good web design really should allow you to "see through" the navigation. Plus, anything out of the ordinary (text-to-voice for the blind, lynx, webtv, etc.) will completely break it.

I've kept my blog design flash free, but maybe that's just a case of wanting to get away from work on my offtime. :)
posted by condour75 at 7:15 PM on March 11, 2003

Maybe the use of copyrighted music presumably without permission for a business site could use some lawyerin' too, five fresh...
posted by ejoey at 7:26 PM on March 11, 2003

I'm no manifesto writer (manifestest?), but jeez, Macromedia's new site design sucks. Wrapping your entire site in Flash (slow televeision content like movie sites excepted) is about one million times more annoying than text-presented-as-a-graphic.

It's like Macromedia is screaming from the mountaintop, "Woop-a-dee-doo-dah, look at what Flash can do. I can implement a menuing system with scrollbars on a web page! I can even squeeze out textual, searchable data into my dumb Flash file dynamically. I guess what I'm saying is, I can do everything with Flash that you can do with plain html."

Just use HTML.
posted by tomharpel at 7:29 PM on March 11, 2003

I always thought that people who were against Flash on principle were luddites... but frankly this new Macromedia site is making me reconsider that opinion.

I've yet to meet someone who considers this a clear improvement over the previous site. Is Macromedia trying to show people how NOT to use Flash?
posted by clevershark at 7:30 PM on March 11, 2003

They also make dreamwever. Sell that product via your site design.

I checked this out at work when the story broke, and guess what? My Win2k/IE machine barfed on the site. The scrollbar was stationary, and nothing seemed to work correctly.

Bad move. Bad, bad move.
posted by benjh at 7:30 PM on March 11, 2003

"Macromedia launched a beta, or test version, of the revamped site last week..."

Just to cut them a little bit of slack. Also, Safari is still in beta as well, isn't it?

Funny, I got a javascript error on IE/Mac on that Businessweek link. Flash, like any other web technology, is just a raw material used to create a site-- it's up to the developer to decide which material is most appropriate for a particular project.
posted by gwint at 7:35 PM on March 11, 2003

You can switch the site back to HTML here.

It's not that easy to find, unless you consider not wanting to use Flash an "accessability issue". Ha.
posted by jdaura at 7:37 PM on March 11, 2003

what the heck is "beta or test version" supposed to mean, when you use it as the "front page" of your web site?

Thumbs down to Macromedia on that one.
posted by clevershark at 7:40 PM on March 11, 2003

I find that more and more I am annoyed by flash. I go online to find information, usually in text form, not to see pretty swirling pictures or content that slides all over the screen.

Another thing that annoys me is that both shockwave and flash are being used more and more for advertisements. If in image form I can usually block the image (a la Mozilla), but flash makes it more difficult. One of the most annoying possible uses of flash has to be the ability to superimpose shockwave/flash over html so you can't read the damn content (as seen on cnn).

As a work around for this I installed Prefbar for Mozilla, which lets you selectively kill flash by hitting a button in the menu bar.
posted by entropy at 7:52 PM on March 11, 2003

i don't understand what the comment about "safari users" not liking the site, unless they're referring to the screwed up cuss.

but hey kids, guess what? most of the css people use wont render properly in safari, or netscape, or ie, or some browser.

i think the problem doesn't lie in their lack of knowledge of css and whatnot, i think it lies more in their failure to properly test cross-browser compatibility, or in their failure to give a rats ass about people not running ie.

i have nothing against non-obtrusive flash usage, which this definitely incorporates. making a site look spiffy is a-ok by me.
posted by onedarkride at 7:52 PM on March 11, 2003

some.. other.. browser..

there is no excuse, especially after the preview. i'm off to go stick hot coals in my pants to make amends.
posted by onedarkride at 7:54 PM on March 11, 2003

Shows up as a big fat blank screen in Opera 6/Linux. I suppose it doesn't get less intrusive than that.

Anti-Flash rants aside, I personally can't stand company sites that focus on glitzy advertising when I'm there for a specific purpose. At least offer me an easy-to-find link from the brochureware site to the support/downloads section, and give me a search box that works.
posted by arto at 8:13 PM on March 11, 2003

I've designed sites before that implement an all Flash nav but I make sure the actionscript is compliant with FlashPlayer 4. These are corporate sites and I have never had any complaints. Plus, the results of a Flash nav are more predictable than many javascript menus. Bottomline, if you don't have Player 4 installed on your system by now then you probably shouldn't even have a computer.

Only real problem I encountered was the "Downloads" section claimed I need to install FlashPlayer 6 on my system when I know I already have it loaded. Me angry.

Also, there's a difference between critiquing the merits of Flash in an UI context rather than a passive (and annoying) site intro context.
posted by quadog at 8:21 PM on March 11, 2003

Problem is, passive content (like minishows and the like) are the only things for which Flash is useful.

Nav in Flash? Guess this whole "having an audience" thing is overrated.
posted by clevershark at 8:34 PM on March 11, 2003

My issue with flash, and I think a lot of people's, is that search engines can't parse the data. The internet is about interoperability, flash "websites" to me, don't get it. It's not about being anti-progress, it's about being for progress. Not just google type search engines are locked out, although that is important, but also little crawlers that are very specific in use. daypop, blogdex, froogle etc.

Flash sites are closed, they are saying they don't want to be part of the web, they would rather be a tv show. If you are more like a show, like homestarrunner for example, that's fine. But if you are trying to be interactive and a member of a community, then let the tools of that community on your site.
posted by rhyax at 8:34 PM on March 11, 2003

Let's not even get into what this means for screen-reader apps for the blind. I know JAWS and other programs support Flash, but it's simple text reading..

And as a side-snark: let's find and kill whoever came up with >blink> and >marquee>. I'm sure it's someone at MS.

A friend of mine is in a CS clan, and they have a 'toolbar' on their web site that not only blinks, but it has a freakin` marquee.

So I told him this made the page hard to read and navigate (and laughed at their naivety), but then he told me it was "kind of cool". I gave up there.

there is no hope for some. for others, there is

Disclaimer: contents in above link may induce seizure in epileptics, and may cause technicolor nightmares. may result in loss of soul and/or death.
posted by shadow45 at 8:36 PM on March 11, 2003

Actually blink is a spawn of the Netscape satan, while marquee is an invention of the Redmond Borg.

Same church, different pew...
posted by clevershark at 8:41 PM on March 11, 2003

Here's a Question:

How can you sell something that you create - that you don't even use it yourself?

They've been getting flack for years because they would sell Flash as a powerful, acceptable alternative to html - yet they didn't use it on their own site to that capacity.

Macromedia has been using flash on their website at some capacity for a few years already. They didn't use it for the main body of the site - but they did use it. (and provided alternatives - javascript detected, etc)

Yes. This creates accessibility issues.
Flash is slowly responding to these issues - accessibility features were added into Flash as a direct response to these complaints. It takes time.

Accessibility is still voluntary for non-governmental funded sites.
Clients/developers still have free will in deciding importance.
Yeah, it's the 'good' and 'nice' thing to do - but in reality, 99.9% html sites won't even come close to a full accessibility check.

It's just the latest angle to bash Flash.

A few years ago it was that "No one has the plugin"
Well, macromedia fixed that, for the most part.
They're sittin at 98% penetration for any version of flash, and 71.7% having Flash 6.

Before that, it was the 'I dont wanna wait for an intro' complaint which was easily avoidable by clicking the oft-included "skip intro" button.
Not to mention, the popularity of these intros has plummetted considerably.

Flash is on hundreds, maybe thousands of platforms now, cell phones, pdas, Windows/Mac/linux, and other appliances.

what the heck is "beta or test version" supposed to mean, when you use it as the "front page" of your web site?
This probably ensured the most feedback. If you shove it in users' faces - they will respond - often with passion.
Although brutish, it's possibly the best way to get loads of feedback.

Oh, and it works fine in the latest build of Safari.

But regardless -

Macromedia is finally begining to practice what it preaches.

Long overdue.

Luddittes go home.
Or just not to flash sites.
posted by cinderful at 8:52 PM on March 11, 2003

Oh, as a note.
I don't like the site either.
posted by cinderful at 8:55 PM on March 11, 2003

I guess what I'm saying is, I can do everything with Flash that you can do with plain html -tomharpel

Ha! Well put. I'm so glad I came across this thread -- I was irritated at the slowness of the new design. I've now set my preference at the site to the HTML version. I'll now be able to snap from page to page as a search for information to help me do my job, instead of wasting time watching the "interface loading" bar.
posted by Tubes at 9:19 PM on March 11, 2003

Jeese, no wonder my textad is doing so poorly on Metafilter. Haha, sucks to be my web site. :(
posted by banished at 9:27 PM on March 11, 2003

Just today I spent some time with some of the "Interactive Features" at the NYT site, and I was quite impressed. To me, it showed several examples of how Flash can shine. The pieces on DNA and the World Trade rebuilding were particularly good-- an appropriate combination of text, animation, photo zooms and pans, audio tracks, and video, all within a self contained unit.
posted by gwint at 9:29 PM on March 11, 2003

Flash is great for just the type of things gwint points out. It's not good for navigation - especially when the Flash navigation contains nothing that you can't do in HTML/JS and takes much longer to load. I'm not surprised Macromedia went to a Flash site. I AM surprised they use the Flash in such a mundane and unnecessary way.
posted by sixdifferentways at 9:43 PM on March 11, 2003

Entropy: Thanks for the Mozilla toolbar pointer. Quite cool.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:52 PM on March 11, 2003

cinderful, I think I love you.
posted by ArsncHeart at 10:27 PM on March 11, 2003

flash, not good for navigation?

i beg to differ -- flash is incredible for navigation, unless you're trying to be compatible with some esoteric linux build & browser, or you really just want a single line of html text with hrefs. you can take a nav system in flash, make it 10 times more attractive and slick, put more functionality in that system than you ever could with html / javascript, and the damn thing will still be small and quick to download. plus, it's got the side benefit of being a single binary that is embedded on all pages, so you only need to update it once (I like to think of it as a "poor man's #include"). compared to graphic text / navs, flash is much more efficient, attractive, and functional.

just for the record, i have pretty much no problem on Win2K, PC IE, Moz, NS 7, Opera, excepting a few CSS layout issues in Opera. it does give NS 4.79 a fatal exception error though -- I wish I could built that into all my flash... The entire front page loaded in under 3 seconds on my cable modem (attbi / comcast).

their putting the html version switch two levels deep and under a flash movie itself is pretty classic though...
posted by badzen at 12:10 AM on March 12, 2003

Go ahead and use Flash for all your navigation if you want, but you'll have to spend an awful lot of time putting in alternatives and workarounds for search engines, non-graphical browsers, browsers without Flash/JavaScript, etc.

Macromedia could've made life far simpler for themselves if they'd dropped most of the dodgy client & server-side bodges and gone for clean, simple HTML (bit tricky with DreamWeaver though) with whopping great Flash movies reserved for animation and some nice interactive touches.

The site doesn't even format HTML pages nicely for print, it's poor work.
posted by malevolent at 2:10 AM on March 12, 2003

Flash is like everything. Good when used properly.

However people have different ideas about what "properly" means.
posted by ralawrence at 2:26 AM on March 12, 2003

Flash is a proprietary technology which breaks the evolutionary momentum of the web, in that there is a price barrier to entry and it's not easy to copy techniques and styles you have seen on another web page.

However, we need technologies to emerge which disturb the status quo, in order to introduce new behaviours onto the web. The W3C never envisaged people wanting to do the type of layouts we like, which is how the table tag got so hugely bastardised. Then CSS came along, and page layout is improving all over the web. Flash introduces all sorts of new behaviours which are difficult or impossible with non-proprietary technologies. Now the W3C are looking at non-proprietary technologies which allow the type of behaviours exhibited by flash, so it has served its purpose well.

The good thing about non-proprietary technologies which allow flash-type behaviours will be that open-source software can be developed to produce content using those technologies. This reduces the barrier to entry considerably, and since non-proprietary technologies are more accessible out of the box, it will allow the free flow of ideas which proprietary technologies usually bar.

Summarised, I like the behaviours offered by flash, but I don't like the proprietary implementation, and generally I find this drives me away from flash-only sites, in addition to the irritating tendency for them to never be as accessible and never offer the root behaviours I'm used to from HTML pages. The web has always been driven hardest and fastest by tools developed by and for its users rather than for profit.
posted by walrus at 3:25 AM on March 12, 2003

Isn't there an opensource Flash clone?
posted by signal at 6:18 AM on March 12, 2003

Let your voice be heard.

all flash aside, I set my cookie to point to the html version, I think it's a beautiful site--great use of color and composition
posted by Ms.JaneDoe at 6:22 AM on March 12, 2003

...alternative to html...

If Microsoft were to say something like that...oh lord, the indignation. Of course, if Macromedia says that, it's okay, because they're hip, like most people who work in ad agencies.
posted by gimonca at 7:05 AM on March 12, 2003

It's nice how they keep bouncing me back to the site requirements page so I can download Flash after I say I want the HTML version.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:28 AM on March 12, 2003

Isn't there an opensource Flash clone?

Not that I'm aware of, but unless it's standards driven it wouldn't address the issues I'm raising anyway.

The situation I'm trying to describe with flash is like someone developing a new image format which did something similar to jpeg and then allowing anyone to view those images, but only their own software to create them. That image format would only survive as long as no-one came up with a format with identical features which anyone could create. Macromedia are trying to be Microsoft, when they could (should?) be Adobe.
posted by walrus at 8:03 AM on March 12, 2003

The SWF file specification is available. With that doc, anyone could potentially write software that could output Flash content. Swift is a free server side tool that outputs SWF files on the fly.
posted by gwint at 8:19 AM on March 12, 2003

"Flash is like everything. Good when used properly. However people have different ideas about what "properly" means."

ralawrence said it best and put into a few words what I would have taken far too many paragraphs to do.

Beer's on me folks.

kirkaracha - The only explanation I can think of is that Flash 6 does in fact have that bug. Many people who indeed have the Flash 6 plug-in are still finding their browsers defaulting to a sniffer or req/download page.

And it's not necessarily a Macromedia bug, the same thing occurred when Macromedia graduated to v4, 4 to 5, and so on. It's basically an OS prob that sometimes says to itself, "wait, what am I looking at here" and gets somewhat confused. Especially if there's cache of an earlier version lingering about.
posted by bluedaniel at 8:35 AM on March 12, 2003

Cheers gwint: looks like I'm wrong then. I still think there are navigability issues with flash, like lack of back button and difficulty of deep linking, but I'm obviously talking through my arse about the proprietary nature of the format and whether it holds back the evolution of the web. Sorry about that mistake. I take it all back. Their license agreement for using the specification seems quite open and readable too. I'm suitably impressed.
posted by walrus at 9:04 AM on March 12, 2003

CSS layout issues in Opera? Er, given that Haakon Lie and the Blooberry CSS reference guy both work at Opera, I should think they're the ones doing CSS right.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:07 AM on March 12, 2003

Nobody seems to have addressed MY problem: it's not my connection that's slow. It's my COMPUTER. The interface loaded just fine but then!: here comes the GIGANTIC ZOOMING TRANSPARENT ANTIALIASED TEXT, and my cursor slows to about 2 fps. No thanks. And my computer's only two years old!
posted by kevspace at 10:37 AM on March 12, 2003

Flash is enabling the granting of a long-held wish: popup ads will be dead in a year.

Instead of popus, advertising content will be delivered as a canvas-less Flash file that renders right over the content you are trying to read. The friendly close buttons that accompany these ads today will probably go away, too. You will either need to watch the ad, or block Flash, to avoid the crumby experience.

This is a better experience for the advertiser, and arguably, for the customer viewing the ad. At least it looks a little cooler, and I can stop patrolling my taskbar for uninvited windows.

Intrusive advertising will be Flash's killer app.

And here is another "hear, hear" for gwint's comment.
posted by tomharpel at 10:39 AM on March 12, 2003

Macromedia has posted The Story Behind the New Beta (marketing BS, including the disgusting and out-of-date chiche "Eat Our Own Dog Food") and an in-depth look at The Design of the New Beta.

bluedaniel: the problem is that I've specified I want the HTML version and they keep giving me Flash, not that they keep asking me to download the latest version of Flash (although that's happened to me before). Sorry if I wasn't clear before.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:16 AM on March 12, 2003

tomharpel: you are joking, right? Popups don't bother me. Many of them load minimized so they don't interfere with my reading. Those Flash things, on the other hand, where – splat! – a car drops right over the text I'm trying to read, is the most annoying thing on the web. If that's the future of web advertising...
Since we're talking about Flash navigation, I'd like to hear what MeFites think of this.
posted by Termite at 12:05 PM on March 12, 2003

For older Macs, FYI:
I have Flash enabled on all my browsers on Mac 9.2.2, works everywhere, so...

Checking with iCab 2.91, I just got a blank page (not
404) and no source, blank too.
Checked with IE 5.16, still blank but could look at source.
Checked with NS 7.02, still blank but could look at source.
Checked with NS 4.8, still blank but could NOT look at source.
Checked with Wannabe 1.0b13 (a text-only Mac browser), NOT blank!
posted by Grand Wahzoo at 2:15 PM on March 12, 2003

kirkaracha: An anvil just fell on my head.

It dawns on me (yea, I know, I'm slow. I need coffee.) that Macromedia's index should be html only, with an option to view it in Flash. The math alone makes sense.

Theoretically, a sniffer should be able to detect whether or not the user has Flash installed, which version etc etc, and automatically redirects to the appropriate page.

Most of the time, that works successfully. I have a sniffer on my own site that works very well, though I do see through my server stats that occasionally someone gets locked out totally.

There's actually a very simple solution to that, and I'm now surprised I haven't installed it, and will do as soon as I can.

But what of other sites? And what of Macromedia?

Upon reflection it seems irrelevant to have a 100% Flash enabled site targeted not only to those who want Flash development, but in that group will be those who haven't Flash installed at all.

Would I have been able to test drive a Jaguar when I was 14 and had not yet learned to drive?

It's obvious across the board that Flash 6 (and likely earlier versions) cannot accomodate every OS, and until that can be corrected, or at least compromised a little more thoroughly, a new system for sniffing the user's system is in order. Especially for the company that creates the software. If my site locks some folks out, then that's my problem and my loss.

The default sniffer that Macromedia uses is common among Flash sites (including my own) that uses a dispatcher javascript to detects if the latest plug in is installed.

Here's a sample of what Macromedia explains in the program's ReadMe file...

The deployment kit contains a detection tool called the Macromedia Flash Dispatcher. It consists of several files that work together to detect whether a suitable version of Macromedia Flash Player is installed in a visitor's browser. You can then direct the visitor to the appropriate content based on that information. For example, if your movie requires version 6 of the Flash Player, you can direct visitors with the version 6 Flash Player to a URL that contains Flash content and send visitors who have an earlier version of the Flash Player to an HTML page that asks them to upgrade.

To use the Dispatcher you need to create an HTML entry page containing the code that detects the Flash Player; there is no visible content on the page.

The entry page contains references to the Dispatcher.js and Dispatcher.vbs files. It also calls a JavaScript function, MM_FlashDispatch that is defined in the Dispatcher.js file. This function detects whether a visitor's Web browser has the Macromedia Flash plug-in or ActiveX control installed, and if so, which version. It then does one of the following: loads a page containing Macromedia Flash content, loads a page containing alternate content, or oversees the update or installation of the Flash Player.

When script-based detection of the player is not possible, MM_FlashDispatch attempts to load a Macromedia Flash movie (detectFlash.swf) to carry out the detection.

Now, I realize this seems to possibly be a round about way to sniff out whether the OS has Flash or not, and what to do with it.

In hindsight, my thinking now is to simply create a V6 swf on an entry page that automatically reloads to the content page (say, within half a second?)

If the OS has the correct Flash plug in, it will obviously go to the content page.

If the OS hasn't the correct Flash plug in, then obviously it will just sit there and do nothing.

Now, what if I include a refresh meta tag within the entry page that refreshes the page to an "Install Flash Required" page (say, within 2 seconds?)

That would ensure that if the Flash doesn't redirect the user to the content page, which it would not if the user hasn't the correct plug in, it will redirect the user to a page that advises to download the plug in.

OR, it could simply redirect the user to an html version of the content page.

My question is, do all OS's correctly respond to refresh meta tags?
posted by bluedaniel at 3:36 PM on March 12, 2003

Version 2 of the beta is now up, with a lot of changes based on user feedback.

To astroturf a little, note that the backend is all ColdFusion/JRun, and that its been holding up without a problem under load.
posted by luyon at 4:28 PM on March 13, 2003

I think Flash can add a lot of visual interest to a site when it's used tastefully, which for me usually means that you load the page, you see a nice little bit of motion in some small part of the page, and then the shit quickly settles down and holds still, preferably within 5 seconds after the page loads.

Flash for navigation doesn't bother me if it's done well, but it's almost never done well. These guys do it well -- don't you think? Smooth little fade on the text that pops up below, unobtrusive, easy to use, maybe kind of annoying that the text rollover appears underneath your cursor, but I bet a lot of people wouldn't even notice that this nav was done in Flash. (That I list this as a positive says something, I think.) I think it looks nice. That search engines, text readers, etc. might have trouble following the links is another matter.

Thumbs down to Macromedia for launching a site that's all messed up in Opera. Inexplicable for a company like Macromedia. And I don't care for the beige, but that's a subjective matter.
posted by boredomjockey at 6:49 PM on March 13, 2003

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