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HTML5 vs Flash – the aftermath

[UPDATE]
This post triggered an incredible discussion – in fact it’s the first reasonable debate I’ve seen on this subject! You’ll find the comment thread summarised in the next blog post: Flash and HTML – the aftermath’s aftermath

I thought everyone was over the whole Flash vs HTML5 debate, but I was wrong. Instead of accepting new developments and making changes accordingly, a state of inactivity and comfortable denial has set in. Just one tweet is enough to release the torrent of emotions that have been bubbling under the surface for months. Who knew!?

Twitter riot incited : ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED

I was at the New Adventures in Web Design on Thursday, an excellent new conference featuring web stars like Elliot Jay Stocks and Dan Rubin. But I was distracted during one of the sessions by a twit-storm that I inadvertently kicked up by tweeting :

Any Flash developers who still think that their work is in any way acceptable to the wider open web community are sadly mistaken. #naconf

Looking back I can see why that caused trouble: the wording is incendiary and a little unclear. It suggests that I think Flash is unacceptable, but read it carefully: I’m merely reporting that the wider web world considers Flash to be unwelcome.

The tweet was in response to Tim Van Damme, who showed a pretentious and unusable Flash site as justification for his statement :

“Whatever you do, don’t use flipping Flash!”*

*words may have been replaced to avoid undue offense 😉

To be fair, Tim is known for his outspoken nature, but still, this is a leading web designer recommending best practice for web professionals at an industry conference. Telling his audience in no uncertain terms that Flash must not be used. The audience laughed, and I interpreted that laugh as : Yay for Flash bashing!

This doesn’t seem to be an isolated occurrence. At these events, I’ll introduce myself as someone best known for Flash, and more often than not get a humorous but derogatory response. At the conference after-party someone amusingly put his fingers in a cross-shape to ward off evil! At the speaker dinner at FullFrontal (Remy‘s excellent JS conference), the first person I met responded with a simple “Flash is dead”.

Flash is dead?

Anyone a little more pragmatic will realise that Flash isn’t dead: it still has excellent and justifiable uses such as casual games and kids’ websites. But we humans like to have distinct winners and losers, success or failure, love or hate. Reality is much greyer and more complex than that.

Taking this natural tendency towards polarisation into account, maybe we can start to understand why web developers mostly hate Flash? Imagine your only experience of Flash was banners, bad restaurant sites with obtrusive music and animation, unusable Flash forms, and when your fan comes on while watching youtube. If you’d only experienced the worst of Flash, wouldn’t you hate it?

“I [nothing] Flash”

I predict a softening of hatred towards Flash, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. As web developers find native browser alternatives, Flash will register less and less on their radar. Only two years ago if you wanted a photo slide show or simple animation you’d use Flash, no question. Now it’s a generally accepted best practice to use JavaScript or CSS3. So rather than a continued hatred, an ambivalence will set in. They’ll forget about it and move on. After all, if you are no longer confronted with something you hate, your feelings will dissipate.

The great Flash squeeze

Previously ubiquitous uses of Flash are disappearing: it’s getting squeezed. But it’s getting squeezed into the things it’s genuinely good at. It’s becoming niche. To quote Brendan Dawes, there’s nothing wrong with niche. We can do a lot with that.

Learn JavaScript

So what should we make of this? It’s pretty straightforward as far as I’m concerned. If you’re a programmer interested in creating online content, learn JavaScript. What harm could it do?

If you can prove your JavaScript skills and demonstrate that you understand its strengths and weaknesses, your colleagues will be more likely to listen to you when a particular task is genuinely better suited to Flash.

Joy of GFX

If your specialism is gaming or rich online experiences, then your Flash skills will continue to be relevant. But also there are many new opportunities for people who have visual programming skills – that’s us! We have a huge-head start over the JS experts who are only just starting to discover the joy of graphical programming.

Just as we have a lot to offer newcomers to visual programming, the wider web community have a lot to teach us; quality user-experience, information design, web typography, and so much more even before we get to the finer points such as JavaScript optimisation and coding standards.

With greater knowledge comes greater understanding, so that’s why I’m straddling both JavaScript and Flash worlds. Thankfully both seem to like me, but I can aggravate both equally when presenting the alternatives. In other words, I don’t quite fit in, but in a good way. 🙂

Step out of your comfort zone

It seems like the wider web development community is getting more like the Flash community. They’re experimenting, playing, and more importantly, they’re enthusiastically sharing what they’ve learned. Just like we did. We’re not so different after all.

So step out of your comfort zone. You’ll find your so-called enemy can teach you a lot.

I examined this and other related subjects in great detail in my “What the Flux!?” presentation, so check that out for a fuller exploration (I’ll let you know when the video goes live).


[UPDATE]

I’ve really enjoyed the lengthy discussions about this here, so thank you all for contributing! One or two things I’d like to clarify:

Firstly this post focusses on the point of view from the rest of the web development community. This is because I assume the bulk of my blog readers are Flash oriented. If I’m not presenting counter arguments defending Flash it’s because I assume you know them all already.

Secondly I’m not saying that you should leave Flash for JS. I’m suggesting that you could expand your horizons into it. Keep doing Flash and learn JavaScript as well. And this advice is primarily to anyone who is producing online content.

And you can ignore it if you like 🙂

Thanks again for the ongoing very reasonable discussion – it’s very enjoyable!


[UPDATE 2]

The comments are coming in thick and fast. Thank you so much for the very reasoned discussion! I’m really pleased that this blog can be a platform for sensible conversation on this subject. I’m turning comments off while I read them all and respond. I’ll be posting a separate summary later.


[UPDATE 3]
TL;DR? I summarised all the comments in a separate post : Flash and HTML – the aftermath’s aftermath


Are you also straddling the divide between Flash and HTML? Are you a Flasher who is enjoying looking at new options? Are you a JavaScripter who can accept the benefits of Flash? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear how you’re getting along.

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