2 min read

Flash of inspiration

I've always had an aversion to Flash for the following, fairly sound reasons:

  • It's proprietary software
  • It costs developers a lot (£499 at the time of writing)
  • SWF is not an open format
  • It doesn't comply with the W3's SVG specification
  • Flash adverts, especially floating ones
  • Flash intros

There are probably more. Funnily enough, I've also had an aversion to websites which make exclusive use of Flash as well, simply because the vast majority of them are dreadful. My reasoning?

  • Unintuitive, non-standard UI
  • Animated menus (for which you wait, and watch, and wait before EVERY click)
  • Tiny characters
  • Unscalable font size

There are definitely more. Of course, these annoyances shouldn't really be so widespread. It's just bad implementation, so I should really be moaning about those infamous befinned Flash developers of Shoreditch who think long and hard about the next media awards but not about the user experience.

But I'm not interested in doing that.

What I'm interested in is beatport.com. It's a digital download service for dance music and the site is pure Flash. And it's so nice to use. It kicks the ass of other digital download web sites (HMV, djdownload.com) which don't use Flash. Admittedly these sites could be better designed but, as much as I hate to admit it, I'm struggling to believe you can get a user experience as good as beatport.com using HTML and CSS, no matter how much AJAX you load your pages with.

The main reason for this is audio playback. Clicking on a "listen now" link and waiting for WinAmp (or worse, QuickTime) to fire up a song snippet (usually with the artist and title missing) just doesn't compare to clicking the link and immediately hearing the track whilst having fully hyperlinked track details displayed in the audio section of the page. Like the remix? Well click on the name of the remixer and see a list of all their tracks. Want to check out the label? Just click and their catalogue is displayed in an instant.

It's a phenomenally good implementation and it has definitely made me rethink my opinion of Flash and ActionScript. I stand by the first list, but hopefully in time these problems will disappear as open formats reach a similar standard and level of support. But as for that second list, it's starting to look badly out of date already.

Will it replace HTML and CSS? Of course not, but for multi-media-intensive sites I just can't see any other alternative.

Now, about those Java applets...