Adobe Flash is a browser plugin that’s used to add attractive special effects and animations to web pages. Flash is often used for small parts of pages, and occasionally for entire websites.
- Attractive animation: Flash can give the user a rich visual experience that’s more interactive than what the Web usually allows, without the delays of reloading pages.
- Wide acceptance: Over 98% of Internet users have some version of the Flash plugin installed in their browser, so your special effects will be seen without forcing the user to install some other plugin that they don’t have.
- Great for video: Because of Flash’s wide acceptance, video that’s encoded in Flash can be seen by almost all Internet users, without interrupting them to download special software first. This is why YouTube, for instance, uses Flash.
- Lack of user navigational control: Websites created in Flash often force visitors to sit through presentations and animations, and limit a visitor’s ability to navigate to the areas they’re interested in, or to skim. This problem can be reduced somewhat by giving the user a wide range of controls.
- Slow loading: When an entire website is coded in Flash, it can take a while to load. Meanwhile the visitor is bored, waiting for the site to load. This is much less of an issue for small Flash features that are incorporated into a larger non-Flash website.
- Not search engine friendly: Search engines understand very little Flash. So if a website is all in Flash, it’s mostly hidden to search engines. Some websites include alternate versions in HTML to be accessible to search engines and to visitors who don’t want to use Flash.
- Can’t bookmark pages or link to them: When an entire website is coded within a single Flash “applet”, it will appear at a single URL — which means that the visitor can bookmark or link to the entire website, but not specific content (“pages”) within the site. The visitor may also become frustrated upon hitting the browser’s “Back” button, which will leave the entire website.
A little Flash can go a long way. It’s usually best used for small, rich special effects within a website, for video clips, for larger interactive features that don’t need to be indexed by search engines, and occasionally–when a really animation-oriented website is needed–for the entire website when coupled with a separate HTML version (though that adds to the development cost).