What are the pros and cons of using Flash?

While Flash offers web designers some great advantages and control over the web sites we see, it is not always appropriate to create a complete Flash site. The reason for this is due to limitations within the technology or compatability within the browser platform. Here’s an overview of the pros and cons to help you decide if Flash is right for you:

PROS:

Creation of Multisensory experience
Flash allows us to deliver content that embraces the use of sound and animation and takes full advantage of the user experience. Using straight html, designers are very limited to the strict and often simplistic coding that is involved in this programming language. As a result, there are inherent limitations that restrict creativity that should be ubiquitous on the web. That’s why we often see sites that are very similar to one another in look and feel. WIth Flash, we can create experiences that work interactively on many levels. A simple rollover button that would have normal “on/off” states in html can be animated to increase the depth of user experience. The result is a more intuitive and targeted site that reflects the company being portrayed. When it comes to marketing, these advantages are unsurpassed.

Streaming Audio
Flash has the ability to stream sound and music files. All that means is that the user does not have to wait for music to load completely, rather, it starts the music and loads it as it goes. This gives us a great advantage to deliver content to the user and ads another depth to site functionality. We can use music to set a mood. Create a jukebox for a band site. Offer a voice over in an online product demonstration. The possibilities are endless.

Dynamic content
Flash lets us create experiences beyond just the delivery of site content. We can create animated interactive games, web polls, dynamic charts and graphs, and other online functions.

Near universal Delivery
The vast majority of web browsers now come packaged with some version of the Flash player. What that means is that users do not have to download a plug-in to view your content unlike some other formats.

CONS:

Bookmarking, Back button, and Printing issues
Flash does not necessarily abide by traditional html conventions. While there are workarounds, many Flash based websites do not offer the user the same flexibility to bookmark a site, use the browser’s Back Button, and print the site content. Experienced Flash designers know how to solve these issues but it may not be worth the time or expense if these are major sticking points for your site.

Compatibility issues
Even though the vast majority of browsers have the plug in, some do not. If your target audience is mostly people with computer systems that are 5 or more years old, I would not recommend using Flash.

Poor Flash Design
Because designers have so much control over the medium, many inexperienced designers create sites that are difficult to navigate, needlessly heavy (takes a long time to download), and/or are just plain ugly. This is not a problem with Flash itself, rather it is a result of poor design skills.

Failure for Search engines to recognize content
Unlike html sites, the content of Flash sites are not *yet* categorized and archived. Changes to the way Google indexes sites show that this is changing. We’re not 100% there yet though. Therefore, it is much more difficult for the search engines to “find” your site. If you plan on using a business model in which users rely on search engines to FIND your business I advise against using a Flash based site. Then again, if this is your only way to market your site I think that the decision to use Flash or not is the least of your worries – but that’s a whole other subject in itself.

To sum up:
You must talk with your designer to decide if using Flash is best for YOU. In my opinion, Flash is a powerful tool that could be better taken utilized by businesses all over the web. The negative aspects that Flash has can generally be solved and the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages in creating a user experience that is unique and memorable. Make sure that your designer can speak intelligently about Flash’s pros and cons before you take their advice.

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