[thelist] Please tell me why I hate Flash

H. G. Quinn hgquinn at attglobal.net
Sat Apr 21 06:08:59 CDT 2001

Media-rich is an appropriate term to use if it's understood contextually --
Flash certainly has the capability to enrich a user's web experience.  Skill
and sensitivity in the construction of a Flash move can keep a user's interest
while it loads (however, a 5-minute load sounds like a movie for a targeted
audience, _or_ a movie created by and for people with bags over their heads, so
to speak).

An enriched web experience is important for the user.  Why?  Well, take cars.
How many of you will buy just any car?  Don't you look for something that fits
you in every way, from look, to color, to safety features, to power, to price,
to brand, etc.?  The car industry has been financially successful and robust
for decades, in part because their designers pay attention to what we want
(though there was a somewhat design-dead period for a while, which foreign
competition broke).  To quote an article in the 4/20/2001 NY Times:

"...In the 1970's, Japanese manufacturers found how much Americans
appreciated small interior features like plastic coin holders. The cargo
net        that Ford included in the trunk of the original 1986 Taurus became a
symbol     of designers' sensitivity to people's needs. Such touches — the
industry calls them "surprise and delight features" — are inexpensive ways to
impress consumers..."
(Full article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/20/automobiles/20CARS.html)

Personally, I'm not "impressed"" by sensitive design -- I'm pleased by it: I
like it when a product shows a sensitivity to how I think and do things, and in
return, I give a bit of loyalty to whatever shows that sensitivity, so I'm more
likely to return to that product after such an experience.  In the case of a
web site, I like it when there's a "surprise and delight feature", as long as
it is _well-designed_.

And that's the key.  It isn't just a "hey, that looks good!" thing, it's a "it
looks good, works well, and stands up to heavy usage" thing.  And it's in the
last two areas that many Flash people are not tough enough on themselves when
they're creating.  But just because there are lots of Flash movies that don't
"work well and stand up to heavy usage" doesn't mean that it's impossible to
use Flash intelligently and functionally, and, as a by-product, create an
enriched experience for the user -- or, if entertainment and gee-whiz factors
are uppermost for a site, make sure that intelligence and functional issues are
considered as well as look and action.

As an example of what's not being done well, it's common when a Flash movie
loads data from an external file to have the Flash movie code test to see if
the data is loaded, and if it's not loaded as yet, re-execute the call to load
the data.  Non-Flash programmers would realize that it's more effective to do
something like go into a wait loop to keep testing whether the data is loaded,
with a break-out after, say, 30 seconds, and only re-execute the call to load
the data if the break-out was done, and only re-enter the wait/breakout cycle a
couple of times, reporting an error if the data wasn't loaded in that time.
Flash actually executes incredibly fast, so if you're waiting for, say, 3K
(yes, that's K) of data to load, and you use the more common approach of
re-executing the call to load, you can have as many as 80 serves (yes, that's
80 requests against your server) of that 3K file containing the data before
Flash says to itself, "Yup, I've received that data and placed it in its
variables, so now we're loaded" -- not an efficient use of server resources,
I'd say.  Have you ever had one of those Flash experiences where your mouse
pointer keep flickering, and sometimes you can't see it, or it responds slowly
to your mouse movement?  That's due to a Flash movie having been programmed to
loop-trap for multiple states, and the Flash person hasn't bothered to check
whether all the trap loops are needed at this or that particular frame, so
they're all going simultaneously.  Some Flash movies don't have their bitmapped
images optimized, which greatly increases movie size.  Some Flash programmers
are not aware that Flash 4, at least, has a problem with scale-tweening
vectored lines quickly.  (As I'm in the process of learning) lots of Flash
effects and transitions can be done with actionscripting, and the resulting
movies are _much_ smaller than when the same effects are done exclusively via
the Flash timeline manual interface, but since actionscripting is relatively
new, and/or it needs programming skills that may have to be acquired, some
Flash people aren't using it yet.

3 years ago, there were animated gif's all over the web; now they tend to be
used only where they're really needed and effective.  Flash is an incredibly
powerful interface development tool for the web, and there's nothing out there
like it.  But we, the public, are witnessing a learning curve on many levels
with this tool.  Give it time, and you may see better use of Flash in the


Heather Quinn
info at windyhilldesign.com
hgquinn at attglobal.net

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