Podcast 39: Mature Flash

This week on the boagworld podcast Paul chats with Aral Balkan, one of the leading figures in the open source flash community.

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In our previous podcasts on flash we focused very much on the dangers associated with adding flash to your site. Although this was a necessary discussion it gave a somewhat one sided view of what is a very exciting technology. Therefore we thought it would be a good idea to redress the balance by looking at just how much flash has matured over the last couple of years.

Paul and Aral discuss:

Also in this episode of boagworld Paul and Marcus discuss whether accessibility is holding back the world of web design and how to write a good CV as a freelance web designer.

  • Brett

    So, I’ve really hated working in Flash from Day 1 and have avoided it whenever possible. However, I think I’m finally coming around to it, slowly. The site that really impressed me (though others hate it) is beatport.com, a dance music download site that’s all one giant Flash app: audio previews, search, shopping cart, browse, help… It really opened my eyes to what Flash can do, though I can’t imagine the work it took to put it together.
    I’m still wary of Flash, but now that I’m reading up on ActionScript I’m waking up to the fact that Flash MX is not the same program it was even three years ago. Really. The irony, of course, is I’m learning to code things that I could do in BASIC 22 years ago.

  • Brett

    Apropos of nothing, if you search beatport.com you can find remixes by Erol Alkan, who is not to be confused with Aral Balkan. Both worth listening to, though.

  • Is it just me …. I can see the new podcast has been posted here but my sofware (Juice) isnt picking it up.
    Is anyone else having the same problem?
    Is it possible that with Paul on holiday Marcus doesnt know how to update the feed? Surely not!
    I supose Ill just have to click on the link and download it the old fashioned way.

  • Ed

    David, you are right – this podcast does not seem to have been added to the feedburner rss file yet!
    Well, trust the Flash expert to use the “table” tag as an example of HTML he would use

  • Phew – glad its not just me.
    Good job I subscribe to the rss fee or I would never have known a new pod was up.
    Great title this week BTW guys – “Mature Flash” that should get you some interesting referals from google.

  • went a bit light on him paul. when he suggested doing several versions of a site to address accessibility issues I thought you’d be all over him like a rash.

  • mrv

    I’ve been a big fan of your podcast…I always listen to them…way start since getting my first copy of practical webdesign mag… great job..nice tips and advices…it really helps a lot

  • Hey Paul,
    a question I really missed was: What about search engines? I worked a lot with Flash up to version 6, but getting indexed by search engines was still a big problem. Are there features implemented in the newer version that give the ability to get indexed without building an “extra version”. In my opinion building an extra version of a website to tackle problems like accessibility or SEO is a nasty way.
    Bye, Dennis

  • I listened to the podcast, and at first found myself surprised at the abilities of flash that I was unaware of.
    However, after thinking about it more, even with the abilities described I still find many aspects of a full flash site very anoying.
    Maybe it is simply because there is more bad flash than good flash. However loading screens, spending way too much time on stupid animation like content flying in and out, etc still makes me sign in frustration. Regardless if you can print and have some back button functionality.

  • Simon Brookes

    Phew that’s a relief. For a brief moment when I looked at the title of this podcast I thought I read “Mature Flesh”!! Mind you, thinking about it, “Mature Flash” conjures the wrong type of images for me too. Do I need to see a psychologist?

  • Steve

    Yes, I recently went on a bit of a rant on a public forum about the state of Flash templates for Web sites. Every site seems to be selling the same collection of sites, probably made in a sweatshop in Lower Kurdistan.
    Not that I would build an all-Flash site anyway but my basic point is that while these Flash sites for sale often have very cool opening animations and “home pages” if you look at the deeper levels where the real content lives often their is no thought given as to how the template would work with actual words and pictures being put in…for instance tiny, tiny text boxes that may look great but are highly impractical.
    But to be fair, Flash the software program isn’t the main culprit…it’s bad designers who have been handed a powerful weapon that can facilitate their terrible design decisions in all its multimedia glory!

  • scott

    Question – Since there’s no standardized approach to making flash sites accessible, is there any reason to expect a user will bother trying to access its content? Unlike html, every flash experience is entirely different and requires the user to learn how to use the site before using it. Granted, there are ways that flash sites can be more helpful to the user but shouldn’t we be more concerned with making standard approaches more usable instead?

  • I would venture that as flash sites get more accessible, users will slowly learn how to access them. As of right now, I don’t know if they would bother.
    Unless there is an audio clue that specificly says “Although this site is flash, we still have an accessible version…” or something of that nature.
    Does flash support navigation through audio? (ie: saying “links” to access the links section)
    Also, is there any way of accurately tracking flash sites through some sort of WebStat’s?

  • I agree that in order for Flash to come into its own the developers really need to tackle the issue of accessibility. I am glad developers are attacking some of the main annoyances that we all have with today’s Flash.

  • I used to work in flash, having a graphic design background, and actually taught flash basics at University (That’s not saying much).
    I’ve only recently started to pay attention to web accessability (naughty me) and have found it really worth the time to learn. Thanks Paul and Marcus.
    I found the interview interesting but believe if you had have pushed Aral about issues such as Search engine opimization you may very well have gotten some interesting answers.
    I’ve recently seen a number of different articles regarding flash SEO site mapping and would have liked to know what Aral thought was the best technique to get high listings.
    As far as web stats, Aral did say that he was able to map a path that was taken by the user while they used the site (as a way of replacing the back button). I assume there is a way of collecting this information into a viewable format.
    I have to admit I do enjoy the look and feel of a good flash site, but accessable sites seem to be more thought out in their design approach. Some sort of happy medium would be nice.

  • I think whether to use Flash or not completely depends on the type of site you’re working on. If it’s the promotional site for a new movie — Flash is a very good choice. If it’s a government agency that helps seniors (for example), giving them the ability to resize text via an accessible website is a good choice.
    The way Flash is used can also make a difference. You don’t have to build the entire site in Flash — you could simply create dynamic/interactive areas, while the rest of the site is still very accessible. That has the added benefit of improving SEO.

  • Ed

    Check out Diggnation 51 for some examples of the use of Flash in the new version of Digg (or just wait a few hours for the site to go live!)
    They say there will be an API for other to access their data in Flash.
    Pretty interesting stuff, and innovative ways of displaying a lot of data at once.

  • Ed

    Now here is an interesting use of Flash: Darfur is Dying: A game that helps educate about about crisis in Darfur.

  • James

    About your guest’s claim that creators of Flash apps needn’t worry about compatibility issues: I call BS. Macromedia/Adobe has only now, after the release of Flash 9 for Windows, assigned exactly ONE person to do a Linux port. Linux users are now stuck with Flash 7 while an ever-growing number of sites insist on Flash 8, soon to be insisting on Flash 9. (And if you look on one of the other Flash developer’s blogs, you’ll find a lengthy whine about how much of an imposition it is to write portable code.)
    Until Adobe/Macromedia does simultaneous releases of new versions of Flash for all platforms, Flash developers will be either worrying about compatibility issues or blowing off some portion of their potential audience, contrary to your guest’s claims.

  • Hi James,
    I stand by my comment that you do not have to worry about cross-platform compatibility when working with Flash. I should probably have qualified that by saying “on supported platforms”, however.
    If you author a Flash application for Flash Player 7 (FP7), for example, you do not have to worry about whether it will run differently on FP7 on Windows than it does on FP7 for Linux or FP7 for OS X. Furthermore, it would run the same way on IE as it does on FireFox as it does on Opera. Exactly the same. This application will not contain a single line of code that checks for platform and changes behavior accordingly.
    A similar claim could be made in the Ajax world if you could author an Ajax application and didn’t have to write a single line of conditional logic based on platform or browser. Unfortunately, this is no where near possible today and many lines of code are spent modifying the behavior of HTML-based applications so that they run the same way across browsers and platforms.
    Thus, I stand by the validity of my original claim: When you are authoring a Flash application, you do not have to worry about cross-platform concerns. Of course, if you are outputting for a certain Flash Player version and it does not exist for a given platform, then you cannot run your application on that platform. This is just a fact of life. FP9, however is going to be available on Windows, Linux and Mac and I do back James’ call that there should be simultaneous releases of new versions of Flash on all platforms in the future.

  • I believe that Flash should only be used to enhance a web site; it should only be used in special sections or in applications. The interview with Aral was great, but I think Paul should have went into more detail about accessibility features and problems with Flash.

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