What Is Flash?
Flash is a powerful and versatile tool for designing and delivering low-bandwidth animations, presentations and web sites.
It can be used to create entire websites or to add interactive elements to standard HTML web sites.
It enables Flash web designers to incorporate sound, movement and interactivity - and can be a great way to add visual flair to a site.
Do I Need A Flash website?
This decision should be based primarily on your company´s target audience.
As a tool for showcasing media products, Flash is second to none - but the vast majority of websites simply do not benefit from using it. Flash is ideally suited towards media-rich presentations or sequences that require interactivity. However, don't just choose to use it for the sake of it!
There are very few major companies that embrace the software to it´s full potential. Those that do, are either in the entertainment industry, or are companies such as Nike, and Volkswagen who already have a secure brand and whose audiences expect technological glamour.
It is worth bearing in mind that the web is not intrinsically a leisure´ environment. The majority of web surfers are primarily concerned about getting quality information, fast, and on the whole are not looking for eye candy.
The user should be your main concern throughout the decision process.
The Advantages Of Flash
The main advantage of Flash is that is that it can enhance visitor experience - and provide elements (such as animation, sound and interactivity) that cannot be so easily achieved with an HTML website.
The software provides designers with a great deal of control over the final product, and enables the creation of features and environments that are difficult or impossible to reproduce in a static web site.
All the major web browsers now ship with a flash plugin already installed, and so a growing number of computers are equipped to view these files. Estimates vary on the percentage of web users whose computers have the plugin - some surveys suggest that as many as 85% of web users can view flash content.
Despite popular belief, Flash websites can be built and optimised to have relatively small file sizes and therefore fast download times.
The Disadvantages Of Flash
The main disadvantage of Flash is that the content is not currently indexed by search engines. This makes websites built entirely in Flash a risky business prospect for a new or small company who is looking to grow their online presence through the search engines.
A site built entirely in Flash will have difficulty in achieving a high search engine ranking - even with search engine optimization. Some search engines (particularly Altavista.com) are making moves towards including more multimedia content within their results - but at this stage, the major player Google.com does not display Flash content in it's results.
Every Flash website requires a plugin to view it. Even with the generous 85% estimation, that's still 15% of potential customers who will not be able to view the site without downloading the plugin. Many will simply not bother.
Although download times can be small, the fact that a (sometimes bulky) file has to be downloaded, means that site visitors must commit to your site before they know whether they will like it. Often they'll choose to move on - especially on dial-up internet connections.
The Annoyance Factor
Used inappropriately, Flash design has an amazing ability to be a serious annoyance to website visitors - and this explains much of it´s bad press over the years.
Although this is the fault of the designer rather than the software, there is certainly a section of people who will hit their back button at the slightest glimpse of a loading bar or a intro animation.
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