Flash in the PanTeacher: Michael Bloch
The exciting world of Flash animation and graphics. I've seen some pretty impressive Flash work out there, designs that really take your breath away. If you're looking to make a good first impression from a graphical point of view, Flash is definitely the way to go.
There are also many more very bad Flash presentations - including my own first attempt nearly 2 years ago, which thankfully I had the good sense to remove from Taming the Beast.net very quickly - I was awarded the "Services to the Internet Community" award for that decision!
Just because something spins, whirrs and glows when you move a mouse over it, it doesn't necessarily make it a good thing and I doubt very much whether it will increase online sales. Flash should be treated with care and respect. The bottom line is, who is your audience?
Research your online audience before Flashing at them..
If you run a games or otherwise very youth oriented site, Flash is probably well suited to this demographic - if you are selling life insurance to mature age people, I can't see the point of it.
Aside from graphic design issues it boils down to bandwidth and load times. A well thought out and presented Flash animation will be impressive to a visitor a couple of times and then become a monumental pain in the ass afterwards while waiting for it to load. Those "skip intro" links are a great idea, but still an extra click is required and they have a habit of not forwarding you past the Flash element until certain processes have completed.
You could always offer a Flash and non-Flash version of your site, but really, what is the point unless you already have a Flashed site and you have discovered that the technology is actually doing you damage? Increased development and administration time are two powerful factors against planning to build two versions of a new site - again, this wouldn't apply to all industries. If you're a web designer, then having two versions of your site may actually increase your clientele through the demonstration of versatility.
As I mentioned in a previous article, we don't all have broadband connections. I am fortunate enough to have a broadband connection and even with the greatly increased speed, I still find Flash splash pages to be highly annoying after the initial ooohs and aaahs of the first visit. You become accustomed to fast page downloads very rapidly when you have a broadband connection, so an extra 5 second wait becomes as equally frustrating as an extra 25 second wait under a dial-up connection - it's the nature of the beast....
Flash and Search Engines..
Another important factor is the effect that Flash elements have on search engines - up until very recently, search engine spiders have not been able to "read" Flash based web site components.
There's some good news on this front. FAST (alltheweb.com) recently announced that they are able to spider the textual elements of Flash presentations. This is great news for Flash developers! Google also provides some Flash spidering capabilities (since October 2001), but this has been limited to following links embedded in presentations.
Bear in mind that FAST only have a very small share of the search engine market, although they do seem set to become a major player in the future. For the time being, if the majority of your web site content exists within Flash elements then you can probably kiss traffic from this very important source good-bye for at least the next year.
Never underestimate the value of search engines as a source of visitors to your web site - without the search engines, Taming the Beast.net would lose over 100 000 visits a month.
As with other graphic elements on your site, if overdone, Flash can totally detract from other site offerings. Flash in the hands of a master can be truly stunning, but using it in an amateurish fashion or as a gimmick could really work against you - the balance between artistic impact and effective online marketing is truly difficult to achieve. My suggestion - leave it to the real experts. The time spent on trying to get a button to spin could be better spent on the real meat and potatoes of the web - useful commercial and non-commercial information.
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