OK, I'm being over dramatic, but sometimes it does feel like I'm on a bit of a stealth mission. Pity that I forgot to bring any stealth! I've been working here at The Team for 3 months now and am enjoying myself greatly, but there is an issue that challenges me on a daily basis. That is that we do a lot of Flash work here, and yet I'm a big advocate of using Open Web Technologies.
In the past I have ranted on and on about how The Web is better off when we build things out of Web technologies than from proprietary technologies which seal in the content, limiting opportunities to get at it. How do I reconcile that? Well, The Team is not just a Web development agency. We are a brand communications agency who have a digital arm. That digital arm (of which I am part) produce all sorts of output, and not all of it is destined for the Web. We produce video content and interactive Flash content for DVDs, kiosks and the like which are jaw-droppingly beautiful. Such content is produced by some very talented folks who in many cases, regard Flash as their weapon of choice. Building things from Flash in this context is fine with me. Often it can be the ideal choice. It is when this hunger for Flash crosses over to building web sites, that I have a problem.
I enjoy a stunning, well crafted, interactive experience as much as the next guy, but I have pretty strong opinions on how and when we use Flash to deliver such an experience. For me, Flash content lives in a similar category to video content or a pdf document. That is, you can put it on the Web, but that won't make it a Web site. (as I write this, I'm find myself hearing Wesley Snipes proclaiming: 'You can put a cat in the oven, but that don't make it a biscuit!' Perhaps I'll refrain from that level of trash talking for now.) Being vocal about this opinion (of Flash and The Web, not cats and biscuits) in my new role, while in the company of many Flash developers and Flash fans has raised a few eyebrows and brought about some interesting debates.
I was particularly chuffed to hear my colleague Stephen playfully remark that I must be part of the "Anti Flash Mob". I've got news for you Steve. There are loads of us out here, and we're thinking of getting t-shirts! In truth I'm not anti-Flash. I'm all for choosing this right tools for the job. But my contention is that when the job is delivering information to the widest possible audience, with the greatest amount of confidence that everyone (and everything) wanting to get at that information can do so, then Flash is the wrong choice. At TED this year, Tim Berners Lee gave a fascinating talk where he touched on his vision of the future for The Web (which until HTML5 with its native video tag comes along, you'll need Flash to watch online). That future was for an "Open Data Web" where we have access not just to documents (as in The Web as conceived by TimBL in 1989) but also ready access to the core data beneath. That sounds good to me. I'd much rather build a site which lets people bookmark pages of interest, copy and paste content to other places, be addressable via hypertext links, be accessed by screen readers and search engines, provide deeper context for information with Microformats, and so on.
Usually during a conversation like this, someone will bang their fist and say "...but you can do that with Flash!", Well I'd be delighted to be proven wrong, so consider this a challenge. Show me. I've heard talk of Flash sites which offer all (or at least much) of the good stuff you get from developing for and with The Web, but have never been shown any evidence. I'd love to see examples. The comments section below awaits your links. For the time being, I'll keep challenging any automatic choice of Flash over Web technologies on projects, but that's just common sense, right? Every technology choice should be justified.