11 Myths About Flash That Won’t Die

I make my living as an Interactive Designer/Flash Developer so most of the projects I do involve Flash in some way. So of course I think Flash is a great technology. But I’m definitely no Flash fanboy. I agree that there are lots of terrible uses of Flash out there and I don’t mind when people are critical of Flash. But I do mind when people say things about Flash that are simply untrue. Here are 11 common myths I hear all the time.

1. You can’t select and copy text on Flash sites

I still see this one all the time in online discussions involving Flash. Text in Flash is selectable (and copyable) if the Flash Developer chooses to make it so. This feature has been around for quite awhile. It’s not complicated or time consuming to implement either. It’s as simple as checking a box inside the Flash IDE or setting a property to true in ActionScript. So Flash technology is fully capable of this, it’s simply up to the developers to make it happen. There is no excuse not to implement this in Flash sites with a lot of text.

2. Your Flash site won’t show up on Google

This is a huge myth due to most people’s misunderstanding of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and what factors cause a site to be listed at the top of Google. A lot of people seem to be obsessed with SEO without having a clue to how it works.

According to SEOmoz’s Top 5 Ranking Factors, the following is what matters most for SEO and getting your site to the top of the search engines:

  1. Keyword Focused Anchor Text from External Links
  2. External Link Popularity
  3. Diversity of Link Sources
  4. Keyword Use Anywhere in the Title Tag
  5. Trustworthiness of the Domain Based on Link Distance from Trusted Domains

So how many of those five would negatively effect a site made entirely in Flash? Zero. That’s right. Not one of those has to do with HTML keywords on the page or H1 tags. Of course those things are important too but they don’t matter nearly as much as most people seem to think.

To get your site to the top of Google you need trustworthy sites to link to your site coupled with good title tags. Simple as that. You can have the most keyword optimized HTML site in the world but if no sites are linking to it you are screwed.

Case in point: Look at The Oatmeal, a hugely popular site that is featured all the time on Digg. The Oatmeal is created by just one person, a guy named Matthew Inman who has been called a SEO genius. He launched a dating site by himself in 2007 and was able to get a #1 ranking on Google for the search term “online dating” (without the quotes) beating out sites with huge marketing budgets like eHarmony and Match.com. He did this by utilizing a clever way of getting sites to link back to his. So obviously he knows what he is doing and understands SEO. Most of the posts on his site The Oatmeal are just a series of images inside an HTML page. No HTML text at all, meaning no keyword optimization, H1 tags, etc. Sounds kind of like a Flash site, doesn’t it? He has no trouble getting his site to the top of Google and neither would a Flash site that has good sites linking to it.

Of course there are some in the Flash community who point out how Google now indexes the text inside of SWFs and this is true. The problem is that they only index static content, not content loaded dynamically through XML. Most professional level Flash sites will load in content dynamically so Google really isn’t indexing the content. Maybe they will in the future but I don’t think the technology is quite there yet. Either way it won’t stop your site from getting a good search ranking since the actual content on the page isn’t nearly as important as the factors discussed above.

On an additional note I’m going to go out on a limb and say SEO is simply overrated in a lot of situations. If you are a design agency or a freelance designer I doubt you are getting much business through Google searches. Maybe if someone is looking for a local company in a small geographic area. But that matters less and less with a global economy with more businesses not caring where you are located. For example, I’ve never gotten any freelance work through people doing Google searches. I get work through word-of-mouth and networking. Clients simply aren’t finding me by typing in “flash designer” on Google and having my page pop up. The same is probably true for lots of businesses who needlessly fret that they aren’t in the top search results.

Also none of this takes into account how easy it is to have alternate HTML for your Flash site if you do really want to keyword optimize your content. Using the industry standard SWFObject for embedding Flash, you can serve up alternate content to users who don’t have the Flash plugin installed and Google will crawl and index that content. My personal portfolio site does this along with lots of other Flash sites.

So really people should understand what factors actually matter before saying a site created entirely in Flash won’t show up on Google. Flash + SEO = not as bad as you think.

3. Flash intros suck!

“OMG Flash sucks! I hate Flash intros! I always just click skip intro.” Not that I don’t agree but when I hear people say stuff like that I have to wonder what year they think it is. 1997? Seriously, when was the last time Flash intros were popular and widespread? For some reason people still seem to associate Flash technology with Flash intros. I’ve heard people say they don’t want Flash on the iPhone because they hate Flash intros.

I have been working with Flash professionally since 2001 and not one time have I ever created a Flash intro. Ever. That’s 9 years. Zero intros. It’s pretty well established that Flash intros do suck and that people severely dislike them. And it’s been pretty well established for about 10 years now. So quit complaining about all these supposed Flash intros everywhere. I don’t see them on any professional, contemporary sites and I don’t know any professional Flash Developers who still create them.

4. Flash isn’t supported on mobile devices

According to Adobe, there are currently 800 million Flash enabled mobile devices out there. Of course the elephant in the room is the iPhone – but how much longer can Apple hold out? Flash Player 10 is supposed to be coming to most smartphones in 2010 – including those running Windows Mobile, Google’s Android, Nokia S60/Symbian and the new Palm operating systems. Users want to access the whole internet and once other mobile devices start offering Flash support I believe Apple will be forced to quickly follow suit and allow Flash on the iPhone.

5. Can’t use the back button and no permalinks/deeplinking

This is entirely possible. See my portfolio site or my Aspen template. More and more Flash sites I see coming out these days support this feature. It’s easy to integrate back button support and deeplinking using SWFAddress.

6. Can’t scroll with the mouse wheel

This is entirely possible as well. Even on the Mac. See my Sycamore template and my AS3 scrollbar, both using SWFWheel.

7. Flash sites load slowly

People seem to think that creating a site in Flash somehow makes the file size 10 times larger than if you created it with HTML. Loading similar content – like lots of images for instance – will take the same amount of time whether you load it with Flash or HTML.

8. Flash sites don’t validate/aren’t accessible

My portfolio site is standards-compliant and validates according to the W3C. And it is completely accessible with alternate content, even on the iPhone. Same with tons of other all-Flash sites.

So you might be saying well Flash makes it harder to create a valid and accessible site. Well that might be true but according to browser maker Opera, less than 5% of all websites actually validate. So it’s not like creating a site with HTML makes it automatically standards-compliant. It’s up to developers to care and take the time to make a site standards-compliant and accessible.

9. Lots of users don’t have Flash installed

98.9% of users have Flash Player 9 or later installed according to Adobe. Even if they are fudging the numbers in their favor that’s still a pretty high percent. The number of users without Flash is probably similar to the number of users who have JavaScript disabled.

10. Flash sites automatically start blaring music and Flash banner ads takeover the screen

Yes, some Flash sites might do this and there are tons of annoying Flash banners out there. But there are plenty of ways to be annoying in HTML too. You can’t blame a bad use of the technology on the technology itself.

11. Flash Designers hate HTML and think the whole internet should be Flash

“If you think Flash is so great then why isn’t your blog made in Flash?” I’ve actually seen that posted before in discussions about Flash. My response to that would be “Because that would be retarded.”

I don’t think any Flash guys are saying it makes sense to use Flash in all situations. Most websites shouldn’t be entirely Flash. Does that mean no websites should be entirely Flash? Not at all. You can deliver an experience in Flash that simply cannot be compared to anything you can do in HTML/CSS/Ajax.

Not every site on the web is about delivering straight up information. If so then all we would need is Wikipedia. HTML is perfect for information rich sites like a blog. Flash is great for delivering a memorable experience.

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So next time you hear anyone perpetuating any of these myths about Flash tell them what’s up. Please post in the comments if you can think of any other myths.

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Related posts:

  1. 7 Tips to Make Your Flash Site iPhone and iPad Friendly
  2. 21 Well-Designed Flash Portfolios
  3. Accessible Flash Nav: Right-Click Links to Open in New Window Using AS3
  4. Top 8 Resources for Learning ActionScript 3
  5. Flash AS3 Contact Form Using PHP

38 Responses to “11 Myths About Flash That Won’t Die”


  1. 1 Tim

    Flash sucks more CPU cycles than plain websites. Using a flashblock plugin increases my laptop’s battery time, because now I can skip all those annoying flash ads and animations. I’m fine with ads, I find stuff with them, but my laptop’s battery time is worth a lot more than those animations. I’m sure You can be an efficient flash developer with efficiency in mind, but most just aren’t. It’s also possible to burn CPU cycles with javascript, but that’s not as often as it happens with flash.

  2. 2 Robert Barfield

    You might also add another myth for printing:

    12. Flash sites are not printer-friendly

    Printing the information on a graphic rich design might not be what you are looking for, but Flash can offer printer-friendly layouts just as printer ink efficient as any HTML layout. Flash can build these printer-friendly layouts in the background & send them to the printer without the need to open another window or changing where you are on the site.

  3. 3 iBrent

    Totally agree. I think it shows how slow people are at letting go of past gripes with Flash. One thing to note regarding the mousewheel on Mac, there’s an update in Flash Player 10.1 that adds mousewheel support on the Mac (finally!).

    Another myth/annoyance I hear all the time is, “It’s a pain to always have to update my Flash Player”. Well, since FP 8, there’s been inline updates of the Flash Player where you never leave the site! Not to mention these updates are not nearly as often as say, any Microsoft product!

    Cool stuff,

    iBrent

  4. 4 Rob Erskine

    I agree as well. My portfolio is composed entirely of flash at roberskine.com and I still fare just as well. I will say that flash sites aren’t 100% always the answer but for a unique user experience it can’t be beat.

    I have one thing to ask about SEO, my site shows up first on yahoo, pretty high on bing, but nowhere to be found on google. I’ve indexed with google and provided a sitemap but I still don’t know what I’m doing wrong.

    Great post, it was an awesome read.

  5. 5 Benny

    >Most websites shouldn’t be entirely Flash.

    Well I used to agree with that. But because of the other points you made, plus the fact that Flash is already delivering what HTML5 is promising + a whole load of additional *cross browser* features I think the statement “Most websites shouldn’t be entirely Flash” is or soon will (/should) become something of the past too. With the upcoming Flash Player 10.1 things are getting even more promising.

    I hope Flash Player 10.1 will be a lot more leaner on the MAC and battery operated devices though, because that’s only *really* valid point to be made against the current Flash Player IMHO. Fortunately, as I understand from Adobe info, that’s one of the goals 10.1 will bring.

  6. 6 Tahir Ahmed

    Completely agreed. I was actually going to write a post like this myself where I can just sum-up all the “issues” of flash and write answers to them.

    Good post.

  7. 7 Matthew Fabb

    Good article, but one mistake about Google not including dynamic content, as that’s out of date. Here’s a link from Google discussing how they were working to index external Flash content:
    http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/06/flash-indexing-with-external-resource.html
    This is as Google continues to work with Adobe on improving the headless Flash Player that they use to index Flash conent.

    Despite this, your point about providing alternative content, I think is still the best solution.

  8. 8 Graham

    Regarding item #8, how do Flash-based sites do when interpreted by screen-readers, as used by the visually-impaired? I was taught that they didn’t do well, but that was some time ago, and things may be different.

  9. 9 Sarah Camp

    There is a time and a place for everything. As you said, you did not build your blog in Flash because that would be retarded, and in many cases, building in Flash just isn’t a necessity.

    That being said, most of the myths listed here have been created and fueled by bad flash programmers. Yes, you can program your Flash correctly so these issues are non-issues, but there are still a lot of “Flash programmers” that don’t. More often than not, I run across a badly scripted Flash page. Even now.

    I see these bad programmers in the same light as I see someone who still builds an HTML site with tables rather than with CSS; They need to be educated that their ways are wrong. This is the only way that these views of Flash will change – when the majority of Flash encounters cease to be bad ones.

    As an example, I went to Jim Carrey’s website the other day – it’s built in Flash (jimcarrey.com). Now, here is a site that I think makes sense to have in Flash, and the idea itself is great. But it’s executed poorly. The site takes forever to load, especially between sections (and I have a very good internet connection), and really slows down my computer. You can’t use the back button, you can’t scroll with the mouse wheel – it breaks all the rules for having a good user experience and just about renders the site useless.

    However, I remember the Beck website (beck.com) that was built in Flash being really great and a unique, memorable experience that HTML/CSS/Ajax definitely could not bring to the table. Now it looks like he’s just changed his site to a blog setup with mystery meat navigation which seems to be having the same effect as the Jim Carrey site – rendering the site useless by a bad user experience.

    Also, I think most people get “Flash Intros” mixed up with splash pages in general. And there are still many a client that ask for unnecessary splash pages (in my own experience, anyway). Fortunately it is easier now to prove that they aren’t the best way to go – specifically since only companies that need them use them (for the most part).

    I have a couple of great Flash designers/programmers that I keep on hand in case a project calls for it, however, most people now don’t ask for Flash up front, and I rarely run across a site that would benefit from being built in it. Especially considering the additional cost involved to get it up and running. Of course, I would hope that most people who are looking for a site in Flash wouldn’t come to my firm, since that isn’t our specialty. :)

    Great post – well argued!

  10. 10 Matt

    I think these myths won’t die because there are thousands of sites still reinforcing them. That’s the benefit and the problem with the web, legacy content.

    Flash is no longer the main culprit for these problems, but to the end-user or a client evaluating offline portfolios, how will they know whose fault it is? All they know is that a large portion of Flash sites are slow and annoying. HTML/CSS/JS can be misused too, but when you travel down the wrong path with them, the consequences for the end-user aren’t usually as bad.

    Additionally, Flash has fully migrated from animation and designer tool to programmers tool. As such, there are many programming pitfalls animators and designers are unaware of that still get implemented and pushed to production to this day. Sadly, I’ve met several people who still program in AS2 because they dont ‘get’ AS3 ways of doing things.

  11. 11 Jeff Lin

    Nice Post.

    Re: #4, adobe may say that there are 800 million flash enabled phones out there, but a majority of these are running Flash Lite, which won’t run full flash websites. In addition, Flash Lite is extremely buggy with many memory leaks, and supports only up to AS2. The question is, how many mobile devices support flash player 10? I’m sure the numbers would amount to a lot less than 800 million.

  12. 12 FlashMoto

    Excellent article!
    Search engine optimized websites soon will rock the Flash world!
    And even nowadays many flash web pages are completely indexable by search engines.

    As for using Flash for blog creation… Well there are situations when use of flash can be inappropriate, I’m talking about simple text presentations, informational/educational websites (where flash animation is just unnecessary). BUT everyone will agree that Flash would be perfect for creating slideshows or galleries of art or photography, etc….
    I guess you got my point: Flash should be appropriate. That’s why the author of this article doesn’t use Flash for his blog, like me and many others…

    Thanks.

  13. 13 Erik Wallace

    Excellent post.

    Admittedly I was one of the naysayers in the past who would rail against flash claiming it negatively impacts SEO. After some research into strategy and finding websites like SEOmoz it really is true that content is king. If your site isn’t worth the visit, all of the SEO in the world won’t do that much.

    To back up iBrent, Firefox requires updates way more frequently than Flash, especially if you have extra tools installed.

    Lastly I think Sarah nailed the root of the flash myths. Bad programming. Be it .NET, AS, CSS… whatever, programmers give those languages a bad name from using antiquated ideas or going overboard with bells and whistles.

  14. 14 Vesa M

    Those 11 (and additional myths mentioned) are not flashes fault, but they are real problems. People do dumb things with it, dumb things they would not perhaps be doing with other technologies.

    Unfortunately dumbness does not die with technologies, but technologies could be killed because of it.

  15. 15 Deane Venske

    I think it boils down to using the right tool for the right job. You can’t ignore that flash adds overhead to pages. And regardless of how good 3G is becoming, it’s still not there. I am a flex developer and I use it when it’s the right tool but I still prefer a lean HTML page when doing public facing sites.

    If someone is coming to my site (usually an SaaS app) then having a flex interface is feasible because they cache it, but if it’s public facing and that user has to wait 5-10s for it to load the first time they have already moved on.

  16. 16 FlashBunny

    “Lastly I think Sarah nailed the root of the flash myths. Bad programming”

    - The fact that basic usability features need to be hard coded by the programmer (Flash) rather than being constrained by the medium (HTML/CSS) is what drives ordinary users away from Flash content in droves. Combined with poor performance, this is lethal.

    There are no constraints in Flash to force “good programming” or good usability practices. Sadly, this is what makes these “myths” actual fact and why Flash has such a bad reputation.

  17. 17 $incere

    Well done, I couldn’t have put it any better than that.

  18. 18 Sci-Fi-Si

    I think a lot of people don’t like Flash because they’re a bit dim and don’t know how to code in ActionScript 3.

    Also the whole point of Flash is that being vector based, it can fit an excellent animation into a tiny file size that simply couldn’t be done in HTML.

    Also Flash is completely cross browser unlike HTML that has different ‘quirks’ in every single browser – Flash you write once and it’s identical across the board

  19. 19 Joshua Rodman

    I kind of disagree with the whole thesis here.

    For example, you *can’t* select and copy text on flash sites. Unless,
    as you point out, the developer goes out of their way to let you.
    Which is ridiculous to start with (for both the user and the
    developer) and frequently forgotten. That this is even a possible
    outcome of flash is kind of a failure of the platform.

    There are similar rejoinders for most of them: Flash isn’t
    *reasonably* supported on mobile devices, because it uses too much
    cpu/battery. You can’t use the back button unless you go out of your
    way to support it (somewhat true with ajaxy sites as well). That the
    mousewheel ever didn’t work is a joke. Etc. etc.

    But the big deal, and the issue that all of these little problems fall
    out of is this: Flash is closed.

    Flash being closed means that we don’t get quality implementations on
    the platforms that Adobe doesn’t care as much about. Flash being
    closed means we don’t get bugs fixed. Flash being closed results in
    security risks. Flash being closed means that platform developers
    would be happy if it just went away. And that’s really what’s at the
    heart of Apple’s rejection of Flash.

    As for me, I’m a Free Software bigot, and run Linux, and that means I
    don’t ever load flash at all on my main workstation. So when I hit a
    site that’s flash-required I know that they don’t actually want to get
    their message out. Flash is not the web, it’s just a thing that some
    people use in concert with the web.

  20. 20 Brian Tkatch

    My main gripe with Flash is that it removes control from the user. Sure, noscript or the like can disable the entire flash application, but not individual parts of it. Allowing flash means allowing some developer or company to have complete control over my experience outside of my ability to turn it off.

    The main use of Flash now seems to be videos. That is changing. There are better players starting to show up, and HTML 5 is offering a supported alternative.

  21. 21 Jasper Janssen

    As a user, the amount of Bad Flash has been so prevalent that I still much prefer the web with Flashblock enabled. Yes, most of that isn’t Flash’s fault but the developer, and if a site really wants to use flash, why, I haven’t all that much of a problem with clicking the play button on navigational flash or content flash — but even then a lot of the stuff I encounter is done in Flash that really doesn’t need to be done in Flash.

    The major exceptions are flash video and flash games. The former will soon be a thing of the past (and really, does it make sense to have an tag, but require external plugins to render basic video files?), and the latter will probably remain for at least a while longer, but the primary non-Flash mobile platform doesn’t actually have a dearth of casual games available to it.

    “Users want to see the whole web” is only part of the truth — and outside those two major categories, very little of The Whole Web requires Flash — in part because, as you say, people provide alternate versions without Flash (at least for small-screen mobile devices). Given that this is apparently a necessity, does Flash really provide enough extra compared to an AJAX implementation to compensate for maintaining both versions?

  22. 22 Hang

    Agree to all of your points.
    Another myth : HTML/CSS3 and Javascript will kill Flash (because they can do video too ?!)
    As a Flash developer, I would also say that we should just choose the technology that fits the content and type of the project. And no, Flash is NOT only about video embedding.

  23. 23 Flash is closed but so what?

    “Flash is closed” – First off, not all of it is. Portions of Flash (Tamarin) are open source. The parts that are not may be in the future, but are not specifically to avoid a common problem among OSS platforms: inconsistency! One of the major advantages of Flash on the Internet is that it overcomes the terrible inconsistencies when using JavaScript/DOM/DHTML/CSS and so on in browsers. Inviting the creation of half a dozen “alternate Flash versions” may break that consistency. (If you have a way around this problem, I’m sure Adobe would like to hear it.) JavaScript-based junk on the Internet is never likely to ever be standardized, stable, and consistent across all browsers. And honestly, poor JavaScript/AJAX code crashes my browser more often than poor Flash sites.

    If you want Flash to be OSS, figure out a way to prevent Flash morphing into 50 different Flashes like Linux has.

    Apple’s rejection of Flash is on political and business grounds, not technical. That’s what you won’t read in the news. They want control over content delivery (for $$$? iTunes and such?) and Flash takes that control away from their precious, crippled mobile platforms. Apple is using Microsoft style tactics (without the monopoly status), so that’s probably not gonna end well for them.

  24. 24 Ben

    “If you want Flash to be OSS, figure out a way to prevent Flash morphing into 50 different Flashes like Linux has.”

    Give that man a cigar! The last thing we need is another JVM war.

  25. 25 King Monkey

    DIE FLASH DIE!!!

    I have been scarred by flash and I want it to die and disappear forever. I think that Flashblock for Firefox is the greatest invention humanity has ever discovered. I think that flashblock is better than penicillin, sliced bread and the light bulb all rolled into one. I get angry and my blood pressure rises at the mere mention on ‘Flash’. Even when people are talking about photography and someone says the word flash, I begin to twitch with anger. If I had the money, I would by Adobe, sell off its assets, and bury the horrid flash in an unmarked grave on some stormy night.

    In short; I hope I never have to see flash again. I’m not sure if that will ever happen, but until then… LONG LIVE FLASHBLOCK!!!!!!!!!!!!

  26. 26 liz

    Good post, but you lost me when you used the phrase “Because that would be retarded”. Retarded is a medical term for a particular mental capacity typically experienced by mentally handicap individuals. Your use of the term in this manner is offensive. There are so many other ways to make the point that something is stupid, could you please avoid using this one.

  27. 27 Albert

    Excellent post. Agree with everything!

  28. 28 Jerry

    I’d like to add another myth, which is that blocking flash eliminates annoying ads or website “features”. It’s quite laughable really.

    Thanks to HTML 5, video ads don’t have to be flash-based anymore. Now they can be annoying video files that loop constantly, eating up ram and lagging out websites with multiple videos playing at once potentially. We can even have audio ads integrated into sites now!

    The best part is that, because so many people use flash blockers over the more effective ad-blockers (hint hint on what you actually want), the new generation of annoying ads and sound effects will eventually be all over the web. Until a viable method for blocking them appears that won’t mess up YouTube (back to flash I guess?) and other normal uses, expect to see a flood of new ads that won’t shut up.

  29. 29 Mobile User

    I’ve got Galaxy Note recently, and I can tell you it’s dispells the Myths alleged by Steve Jobs. Smooth sailing with browser even with flash sites. People with notebook that complains their hot CPU either has OS problem or simply does not understand what performance needed by animation.

  30. 30 Rosh

    Flash rules, most scripts are imitating NOW or featuring what Flash was 10 years ago…! Just to name a few, photo gallery, carousel, css3 animation, pre-loaders…. the list is endless.

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