The first part of my post of 1 February was not an attack on Flash. It described a way of working with Flash that also supports users who don’t have access to Flash. I’ve followed and advocated that approach for 10 years. It has nothing to do with Apple’s recent decisions and everything to do with making content available to people and search engines.

It’s how our agency and others use Flash; we’ve published articles on the subject in our magazine, notably Semantic Flash: Slippery When Wet by Daniel Mall.

We do the same thing with JavaScript—make sure the site works for users who don’t have JavaScript. It’s called web development. It’s what all of us should do.

My point was simply that if you’re an all-Flash shop that never creates a semantic HTML underpinning, it’s time to start creating HTML first—because an ever-larger number of your users are going to be accessing your site via devices that do not support Flash.

That’s not Apple “zealotry.” It’s not Flash hate. It’s a recommendation to my fellow professionals who aren’t already on the accessible, standards-based design train.

THE SECOND PART OF MY POST wasn’t Flash hate. It was a prediction based on the way computing is changing as more people at varying skill levels use computers and the internet, and as the nature of the computer changes.

There will probably always be “expert” computer systems for people like you and me who like to tinker and customize, just as there are still hundreds of thousands of people who hand-code their websites even though there are dozens of dead-simple web content publishing platforms out there these days.

But an increasing number of people will use simpler computers (just as we’ve seen millions of people blog who never wrote a line of HTML).

THE THIRD PART OF MY POST wasn’t Flash hate. It was an observation that Google and Apple, as companies, have more to gain from betting on HTML5 than from pinning their hopes to Adobe. That’s not a deep insight, it’s a statement of the obvious, and making the statement doesn’t equate to hating Adobe or swearing allegiance to Google and Apple—any more than stating that we’re having a cold winter makes me Al Gore’s best friend.

(Although I like Gore, don’t get me wrong. I also like Apple, Google, and Adobe. My admiration for these companies, however, does not impede my ability to make observations about them.)

THE THIRD PART OF MY POST ALSO WASN’T a blind assertion that HTML5, with VIDEO and CANVAS, is ready to replace Flash today, or more adept than Flash, or more accessible than Flash. Flash is currently more capable and it is far more accessible than CANVAS.

We have previously commented on HTML5’s strengths and weaknesses (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C) and are about to publish a book about HTML5 for web designers. HTML5 is rich with potential; Flash is rich with capability and can be made highly accessible.

That it is unstable on Mac and Linux is one reason Apple chose not to include it in its devices; that this omission will change the way some developers create web content is certain. If the first thing it does is encourage them to develop semantic HTML first, that’s a win for everyone who uses the web.

Carry on.

40 thoughts on “Ahem

  1. Well said Jeffrey.

    When I made a comment the other day that all sites with Flash in them should also have non-Flash “version” (or some such alternative) I was told by someone to catch up with the times, that pretty much every site uses Flash in it somewhere!

    I haven’t used Flash in a website for over 2 years, but that’s about the projects. When I have used Flash for some part, it is always as an enhancement after the HTML is written. As you say, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. It takes a lot of time and skill to become a good flash designer/developer. I can see where someone whose bread and butter is flash work might overreact when they read posts about the diminishing role of flash on the web. I know I get a little queasy when encouraged to rely less on my primary tool (Photoshop) and design in the browser.

    Change freaks people out and causes them to post irrational things on rational blogs. Ignore them and keep up the good work.

  3. Well said indeed.

    I think the Flash community should view this situation as a positive thing. With no support on mobile platforms and the capabilities of HTML etc growing, the potential applications for Flash will be reduced, so development of the platform can be concentrated on this new niche.

    One day, HTML with the CANVAS will be able to do what Flash can do right now – but imagine where Flash could be by then…

  4. Wow, I wouldn’t bet on a book on HTML5 right now if I were you. I expect there to be significant changes to the spec before it goes to last call.

  5. Can you go into more detail on your statement: “Flash is currently more capable and it is far more accessible than CANVAS.”

    In terms of screen readers? Or in terms of device support? Just curious.

  6. Zeldman,

    Thanks for clearing that up. I can’t imagine the web without Flash, even if video moves towards HTML5. I’m looking forward to the HTML 5 book you mentioned. But how close are we to getting adoption from all of the browsers on this? Is Microsoft going to play nice? Mozilla? So far, only Safari supports all of the new features.

  7. In my experience (working at a distance with agencies that have delivered flash-based ‘applications’), although flash can be delivered in an accessible or inaccessible way (just as HTML and javascript can be), it doesn’t tend to be. I’m not a flash expert, so whether that’s a side-effect of more complex production, or simply a lack of caring about accessibility, I can’t be sure. But’s that’s been my experience – maybe I’ve worked with particularly poor agencies.

    I always try to think of accessibility in broad terms: not just the availability of content to poor-sighted users. The areas in which it overlaps with usability are pretty important too, I believe. When evaluating a flash application’s usability/accessibility, I’ll find myself asking the following:

    1. Can it respond to text scaling, without requiring horizontal scrolling?
    2. Can it respond to window resizing without requiring horizontal scrolling?
    3. Can it be used to the full without a mouse?
    4. Does it use (at least a very close approximation of) the standard UI controls that every other application on my computer does?
    5. Can I bookmark different ‘sections’ of it?

    This is before I’ve even considered how easy it is to install, debug, and maintain, and what amount of resources it consumes on the client’s computer.

    I’m sure there are excellent flash developers out there, who appreciate all the above concerns, and more. I think the general direction in which consumer computing is moving can only be an opportunity for flash developers to become better, to become more familiar with accessibility, and progressive enhancement. If Adobe realises this, I believe they can benefit from Apple’s lack of flash-support.

  8. how close are we to getting adoption from all of the browsers on this?

    All browsers support the basics of HTML5 because HTML5 is backward-compatible by nature: it is designed to support what browsers already do, and also designed to support existing coding practices—the bad as well as the good.

    Safari, Opera, and Mozilla support many advanced HTML5 features, although not with 100% overlap yet.

    There are scripts out there that can bring support for advanced HTML5 features to IE8 and IE7, and everyone expects native HTML5 support in IE9. Admittedly, IE9 isn’t out yet, and there is always a long lag while the web waits for users of old versions of IE to upgrade, but the scripts offer a good interim solution.

    More on all this will soon be revealed.

  9. Wow, I wouldn’t bet on a book on HTML5 right now if I were you. I expect there to be significant changes to the spec before it goes to last call.

    Could be. Fortunately we’ve taken a strategic rather than tactical approach: how to think about and use HTML5, rather than “5 ways to use this tag.” Our brief book for standards-based web designers starts by explaining the context in which HTML5 was created, then focuses on the new semantics and ways to understand, transition to, and use HTML5 today and tomorrow.

    I wouldn’t put out a long book on HTML5 elements and syntax today—parts of such a book, I agree, would be obsolete before they hit the shelves—but a strategic book for designers is needed now, and blessed author Jeremy Keith has come up with a good one.

  10. I was told by someone to catch up with the times, that pretty much every site uses Flash in it somewhere! – Grant

    I agree with you Grant. I avoid using flash and tend to recommend against it using it, or at least for anything that conveys information or that’s integral for site navigation. It’s a big no no as far as my approach to accessibility and even usability is concerned.

    Flash is a no no but by no means do I side with Apple in their approach to anything generally, let alone not supporting it on their supposed web ready devices.

  11. Well said Zeldman, however I do, for the most part, hate flash.

    Although I do see a time and a place for it, and I even selectively use aspects of Flash in my own work. I’d prefer to one day NOT use ANY flash though, and just know that my website will just work for anybody anywhere… one of these days.

  12. OK, I’m finally going to chime in here since I bit my tongue on the last few posts regarding this matter.

    I build accessible, standards-based websites for a living and some of those websites use Flash, primarily for adding motion and dynamics to static content. Most Flash stuff we do relates to image slideshows (SlideShowPro mostly) and similar treatments.

    I love Flash and I became hooked on ActionScript after making the transition from Director’s Lingo back in 2000–2001 (anyone else remember Shockwave?). Even then I knew that Flash and Shockwave were plugin technologies and that the experience was hinged on the fact of whether or not the user had the right plugin(s). I accounted for this by using trusty old JavaScript, some careful sniffing and a plain old image (or notice) as a fallback. The websites that I built which used Flash always had some kind of degradation, typically in the form of a static image. The experience for Flash users was compelling and dynamic and usable for non-Flash users.

    Around this time the web standards movement was taking flight and graceful degradation became hip. Shortly after that we got Flash Satay which allowed designers even more flexibility in terms of how to present Flash-based content.

    The point is that, like Jeffrey says above, we are web designers and developers and HTML/CSS should be the forethought and not an afterthought. Flash is just one component in the stack of a “full stack” web developer’s toolbox. Flash is not evil no more than guns are evil, but Flash isn’t an open web standard either. Spice is good, but if you make the gumbo too spicy not everyone can enjoy it. Meet the lowest common denominator first (base HTML and CSS) and allow users with the right “palettes” to add a dash of Tabasco (Flash) if they can stomach it. Just my 2px.

  13. During my daily online activity, I might never open a browser. Instead, I have desktop RSS readers and mobile Twitter/Facebook applications — many of which don’t consume HTML. If I relate a well written news article that I’ve read to a friend, chances are that I might not then be able to discuss what its home page looked like — or comment about how easy the website is to navigate — because I never had the need to visit the site at anytime. TheApple AppStore appears to encourage this: interact with data at the level of the application, then click to associated website for further textual content if available.

    I agree that HTML 5 will deliver the same content we have already in a way that is standards compliant, but how relevant is HTML (with regards to information and data consumption) for ‘tomorrow’s computing’, given that web, mobile, desktop, and shortly iPad tablet applications will increasingly consume more data services. Would the argument not be better directed towards the evolution of open standards in the cloud computing space?

  14. Good luck with the book. Will be interested in seeing it when it hits the streets.

    Another fairly broad coverage of the topic in article from C/Net:


    As for this whole “HTML5 is going to kill Flash” or “iPad is going to kill Flash” fooflah, I personally would prefer we get out of the “such and such is going to kill this and that” frame of mind.

    Hyperbole makes me chafe.

  15. Thanks for clarifying. I wasn’t clear from the other blog post, and this definitely helps. My hope is still that the Flash community can come together with the standards community to find great solutions to the issues. Maybe together they could actually do something about proprietary junk.

  16. Going back to the previous article, whilst I’d agree that “ordinary” users don’t want to mess around with plugins and fiddle with their computers, I doubt that most people are inconvenienced too much by installing the Flash plugin. In fact I’d suggest that many don’t even realise that it’s not part of the browser.

    I work on a site that appeals to a very broad audience of millions of “ordinary” users, and the stats show that 96% have either Flash version 9 or 10. The fact alone that YouTube requires Flash means that most people have it.

    On the flipside, Flash does quite often bring my Mac to its knees regardless of the browser, and I can see that Apple (being Apple) would not want to give over a potentially significant proportion of the user experience to a third-party, for both revenue and user experience reasons. It’s different from JavaScript. They control the JavaScript implementation. They don’t control the Flash implementation.

    Whatever the reason, seeing a blue Lego brick instead of [something] is not a good user experience. Who loses out (beyond the user) will be determined by whether the users blame the device for not supporting Flash, or the site for using it.

    Practically speaking, it comes down to this: if you want iPhone/iPad/Touch users to see your content, don’t publish it exclusively with Flash.

  17. None of the Flash player penetration stats people are bandying about take into account “click to enable Flash” plugins (or browsers… I believe Opera Turbo, used by every student I know with a dongle & a 1GB monthly download limit, behaves this way natively?)

    These plugins create a situation we haven’t really learned to deal with yet:
    The browser thinks it has Flash installed, so it creates a box for the SWF rather than displaying the non-Flash fallback content.

    BUT the plugin doesn’t let the SWF load until you click on it, so you have a big empty box with no indication of what is supposed to be there.

    This works well on YouTube, because we know there’s supposed to be a video where that big empty box is.

    But what if (heaven forbid, but Flash-happy ad agencies still do this all the time) your main navigation is Flash? Even if you have fallback content for users without Flash, all the plugin/Opera Turbo crowd will see is a big empty rectangle at the top of the page.

    And I’d bet users are more likely to assume their plugin has blocked a banner ad rather than the most important part of your site.

    Just because a user has Flash installed doesn’t mean they’ll see your Flash content instantly.

  18. Speaking as a grunt-level developer and team of 1 for a corporate web development group, video is the key. People are going to want to see their video content on the iPad. If the solution is HTML5 like Vimeo is experimenting with, then we’ll see a big push. Users can live without fancy animated banners and such, but, they’ll want their video. The lack of Flash video on the iPad will either handicap it, or push adoption of a new standard.

  19. To “Ben” from Melbourne: I saw a site last year with all navigation done in Flash. I just clicked the icon to access it, no big deal.

    (The Millward-Brown audits of consumer support levels ask people “Can you see this content? How about this? this one?” It measures what raw consumer focus groups can actually view.)


  20. @John Dowdell
    I’d argue that requiring users to play “click the mystery box” every time they load a new page on the site is less than ideal at best.

    The Millward-Brown audits are conducted via online surveys, not a focus group consisting of a random sample of society sitting in a room(via ).

    The penetration statistics here are for PC Penetration (according to the sidebar).

    People who complete online surveys probably already spend quite a bit of time online on their desktop PC, probably have the Flash player installed, and probably completed 5 other surveys in that sitting (I know – I, like most of my friends, did it for the occasional free iTunes voucher while we were studying.)

    As far as I can tell, nobody is questioning the ubiquity of Flash on desktop PCs. But I don’t believe the online survey crowd is an accurate representation of the entire range of internet users.

    What we are saying is that the group accessing websites on devices other than desktop PCs (many of which don’t support Flash) is growing rapidly. I haven’t seen any compelling penetration stats showing Flash player penetration across the entire range of web users – that is, a survey sample that includes a representative number of users with iPhones, Opera Turbo and Flash blocking plugins.

  21. I don’t understand WHY all these standard guys haven’t ever done their interactive animations using SVG/SMIL! Moreover, I don’t see any of these gurus talking about the Open Screen Project: do you really know what are you talking about or yours is only ignorance and hate mixed up?

  22. @”Ben”
    “What we are saying is that the group accessing websites on devices other than desktop PCs (many of which don’t support Flash) is growing rapidly.”

    Oh, sorry, I didn’t get that from “None of the Flash player penetration stats people are bandying about take into account ‘click to enable Flash’ plugins”. ;-)

    Yes, the Pocket Web is increasing. First one was Nokia 700 Internet Tablet with Adobe Flash Player. iPhone has gotten popular with coastal techies lately, and your content is restricted in that garden, agreed. Fortunately 19 of the other Top 20 manufacturers are all supporting today’s World Wide Web. Quite massive. The stats for deficient devices may have grown through 2009, but in 2010 will swing back towards viewing all web content regardless of device size.


  23. @John Dowdell
    I’m not interested in Flash-bashing. I use Flash when the project requires, and most problems I have with it come down to big ad agencies using it to impress clients rather than users, not the plug-in itself.

    I’m not an iPhone user, but viewing it as a passing fad that’s just popular with coastal techies is a big old head/sand combo.

    When you say today’s World Wide Web, do you mean to say that all of these manufacturers’ devices support Flash, Silverlight, Windows Media, Quicktime, any other plug-in I can use to access content in 2010?

    Up until now, the web on mobile devices was the domain of business users and the tech-savvy. The iPhone brought the mobile web to everyone, and unfortunately everyone is who I make websites for.

    So back to my original question:
    Given that mobile bandwidth is apparently still worth more than gold here in Australia, and given that blocking Flash does reduce bandwidth consumption, even if every single mobile device decides to support Flash I don’t think “click to enable Flash” is going anywhere.

    How do we give these users a decent experience?

  24. Ugh. The problem is that web development is stuck abusing HTML to try and use it for something it wasn’t designed for. It’s a markup language for displaying text and navigating content, but we are trying to provide a rich, multi-media experience with it. So when someone like Adobe or Microsoft comes up with a solution that is better designed for writing and delivering applications, people shoot it down in the name of accessibility and standards. I agree that HTML is the only way to write web sites that are truly accessible, but I don’t think it’s a good thing. Maybe Flash and Silverlight aren’t the ultimate answer, but they are a step in the right direction. At some point, we are going to have to come up with a standard designed from the ground up for writing web applications, and anything based on HTML is always going to suffer the clunkiness of being built on a markup language.

  25. LIES! Flash is going to be on every device out there soon. Every major platform will have flash support EXCEPT apple. They’re the only holdout and they’re about to cave. So give it up Zeldman, your HTML is old fashioned and boring, Flash is everywhere, you can’t stop it.

  26. You gave me attention and thus I feel compelled to interact with you. Hello Mr. Zeldman, my name is notANoob, oh, I am so happy to be on here, typing to you now, thank you for your time. This would have been more fun had the letters I’m typing animated in from random 3 dimensional vectors, but alas, no Flash here.

    Hey let me tell you about open source… Microsoft & Apple. That is it. Nothing else to say. They are so far from open anything. In fact my hat wearing bearded friend, the internet is indeed built upon lots of closed source technology. It starts at the hardware. And many of the web’s biggest players in open source have loads of proprietary code, like Yahoo and Google. Because you still have to hire someone to build something and not share it with the world in order to have a competitive advantage.

    The bottom line is that money is the difference. Whether a company implements a “free” solution, or a proprietary one, money is the difference, and as long as money is the difference, company’s will continue to spend money… And frankly, Flash is cheap, and free, you can develop AS3 in a variety of open source IDE’s.

    Tell me something… does silverlight run on Linux? No? When will we be graced by an anti-silverlight “HTML 5 will wax yer nipples and hold the cigarette in your mouth afterwards” kind of rant directed at the big mean Microsoft? That Bill Gates! He has money! But attacking Bill is passe’ I guess… Not the kind of thing the masses get riled up about anymore.

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