July 01, 2008

Flash SEO, Adobe manoeuvres

Kudos to Adobe, Google and Yahoo for creating the mechanism for Flash content to be indexed on search engines. With one or two reservations (like how to distinguish between application content and a site) I think this is another significant move towards maintaining the ubiquity of Flash. It seems as though Adobe is steadily, but impressively quickly, removing piece by piece the most-cited drawbacks of Flash. Some of the most significant announcements (in no particular order):

  • H.264 video support
  • Open-sourced Flex SDK, BlazeDS
  • Opened access to Flash Player APIs
  • 3D support (thanks to Papervision, Away3D etc.)

Obviously it doesn’t take a genius to work out that, in part, Adobe has had to make some of these moves – HTML5, advances in Javascript and browser technologies promise or already offer many features that up until now Flash had to itself; the canvas and video tags in HTML5, DHTML effects, processing.js, SproutCore, the list goes on – it was inevitable that some of Flash’s functionality would be adopted and integrated into other technologies, but I think that those people who still maintain that they ‘hate Flash’ should still agree that it has been a primary driver of change on the web. This is particularly true in three areas; animation, user experience and video. Flash may responsible in their eyes for evil banner ads and inaccessible sites/UIs, but those things are created by people, and a technology that provides a degree of creative freedom is open to abuse – there are plenty of bad DHTML sites around and more than a fair share of annoying DIV-based floating ads out there already, but there is also a great number of fantastic and successful experiments in user interface design, animation and application experience. Flash has enabled developers to do things on the web they could not have easily done by other means, and those people that attribute bad practice to Flash are both ignorant and in for shock if they believe the same things won’t happen when other technologies catch up. Up until now it’s been far too easy to blame Flash, when Flash isn’t the problem. Use it where it works, not where it doesn’t (like whole sites).

In addition to the technology itself, Adobe has provided the means to develop and deploy it effectively, with the Flex SDK and FlexBuilder. Personally I have no objection to proprietary technologies when they a) work, b) don’t break anything and c) positively drive change and allow people to do things that standards-based technologies often take much longer to enable (and often not quite as well). Flash and Flex won’t be the standard, they will peacefully co-exist with other technologies (along with man, and fish); a single unified standard just isn’t possible in a competitive world, nor is it always desirable. Someone has to innovate, and attacking Flash (or Apple come to to think of it) for being proprietary is like attacking Ferrari for making a better sportscar (and charging for it). If it enables you to go faster, better, and (similar to Java and JS) is on 90-something% of desktops, who can blame Adobe for adding features and functionality that will maintain or increase edge and adoption? And at the same time if it is making key components of its platforms open, regardless of motivation, it’s A Good Thing*. So long as the standards do catch up, it’s fine.

There is I think, one thing left to do at the moment, the final hurdle as I see it – accessibility. It’s kind of in there, but if Adobe could make Flash and Flex as accessible as a typical web page, or at least as easy to make accessible as a web page, it would remove the one last stick with which it gets beaten. In fact and to bring this full circle, the same mechanism by which search indexing now works may also prove the key to unlocking accessibility, so maybe that’s already possible?

*None of these arguments apply to Microsoft, especially the Ferrari analogy. Silverlight is neither better or faster.

- 6 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

[Skip to the latest comment]
  1. John Dowdell

    Hi, when you say “accessibility”, what would you like to see?

    (It’s usually Sec508, but people also use that term to describe cross-device support and ubiquitous capability.)

    tx, jd/adobe

    02 Jul 2008, 06:17

  2. Steven Carpenter

    To be totally honest (and to my shame) I’ve not given it that much thought. I haven’t done much active inclusion of Flash/Flex accessibility myself, although I do remember trying to make my Flash applications at least include things like tab ordering. I’m not saying Flex/Flash isn’t accessible, just that the accepted norm (whether accurate or not) is that Flash Player content isn’t as accessible as HTML content, and part of the problem is that accessibility isn’t enabled by default – from the Adobe guide on this there are several ways to enable it and use the accessibility built-into components:

    • By default for all Flex applications by modifying the flex-config.xml file
    • Using the command-line compiler switch
    • In the Adobe Flex Builder™ 3 project properties
    • For a dynamically generated Flex application, by adding a parameter to the application URL

    I notice that the BBC, when describing its new AIR app, explicitly adds a disclaimer about accessibility – AIR brings about new challenges too I guess.

    02 Jul 2008, 20:53

  3. John Dale

    Trivial example: I’d like Flash to obey the browser “Increase text size” command. Ctrl-Plus is the over-forty’s best friend when they’re using a sub-notebook, until they hit some content rendered in Flash.

    03 Jul 2008, 23:17

  4. John Dowdell

    Got it, thanks for the followup. Some individual points:

    “The accepted norm (whether accurate or not) is that Flash Player content isn’t as accessible as HTML content.”

    I agree that there’s much “Flash isn’t accessible” talk out there. Even though screenreader support has been there since the early part of this decade, few seem to know this. (There’s also the shifting definition of the term “accessible” which fosters such conversations, and “it’s not accessible because it’s not on my blackberry” is coming up more lately.)

    Before last week there was a similar “Flash isn’t searchable” trend in discussion, although it seems like this week’s news did penetrate into common awareness.

    “part of the problem is that accessibility isn’t enabled by default”

    It’s true it does require special attention to produce optimized speech-only versions of a richer experience… the default text-to-speech procedures help a little, but it does take additional attention to satisfy minority audiences (whether low-visual, or motor skills, or language or cognitive differences, etc).

    This paragraph from the whitepaper does indeed seem costly:
    “It is extremely important that rich Internet applications created with Flex be evaluated in a way that includes more than conformance with a set of standards. For Flex applications to be considered accessible, they should be evaluated against a series of use cases that include people with disabilities. Just as designers frequently preview content in a variety of browsers and across operating systems, developers must preview content under the conditions of these use cases. Many find this to be the greatest challenge of accessible design with Flex, particularly in use cases that include screen readers, as developers tend to be visually oriented.”

    (The BBC article has a followup, and it sounds like progress will be made on the project.)

    “I’d like Flash to obey the browser ‘Increase text size’ command.”

    I agree that that would be nice. I don’t know of any browsers which yet expose this event to plugins. I’ve seen a few SWF which offer resizable text through other interface conventions, but many are still unfortunately designed for only a single fixed resolution.

    For me, the big thing I think of with “accessibility” is in actually making the key ideas accessible, easy to understand, for a diverse range of audiences. That’s work. Setting up incentives to do that extra work seems a tricky problem….


    05 Jul 2008, 20:09

  5. Flüge Thailand

    Very well then, I really like your suggestions and your thoughts, but whether it´ll work is writen on an other paper.

    26 Aug 2008, 12:46

  6. Airline Bewerten

    There is I think, one thing left to do at the moment, the final hurdle as I see it – accessibility. It’s kind of in there, but if Adobe could make Flash and Flex as accessible as a typical web page, or at least as easy to make accessible as a web page, it would remove the one last stick with which it gets beaten.

    23 Oct 2008, 06:54

Add a comment

You are not allowed to comment on this entry as it has restricted commenting permissions.


MXNA link



    Other blogs I like...

    Black Pepper Software

    Eismann-sf Go to 'Comments on: Design News for Web, Graphic Designers'

    Ted On Flex Go to 'Ted On Flash'



    Not signed in
    Sign in

    Powered by BlogBuilder