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Making Good Use of Flash: When You Should and Shouldn't Use It!

Josh Barinstein -- When designing Web sites, make sure you use technology as a tool and not as a gimmick.

If you are considering Flash for your Web site production, there are reasons why you would and would not want to tap into this great technology. Flash is everywhere these days, it is true. However, as we've seen in the past, not every available interactive tool should be used in every application! Here are some questions to answer before diving in:

1. Is Flash going to help me in communicating with my audience?

The first thing you need to decide is whether or not it makes sense to use Flash. Will you be able to communicate better with your audience in how you address their concerns? You need to keep users' needs and perspective in mind at all times.

If Flash is going to annoy them, or otherwise get in the way of you reaching them, then simply don't use it! However, for subtle animations that help enhance the experience, or for media-rich content, on the opposite end, Flash is an excellent tool.

2. Will my audience have the plug-in?

Estimates say that up to 85% of users do have the Flash plug-in, with browsers now shipping with it. That still leaves 15% without the plug-in, and those with an outdated version. Unfortunately, many won't bother to fetch it in spite of a smart site giving them the option.

Know your audience and if this will mean a loss of business for you.

3. Is some additional download time acceptable?

Flash can be optimized, but some movies could potentially take a bit of time to load. Will your audience commit to waiting? Another important question to answer. Those on the slower connections may not wait.

4. Am I trying to accomplish things that plain HTML can't?

One consideration to make is whether a static, HTML site will do justice to your content. If your site needs to come to life in some way because it will engage your audience better, then Flash could be the answer.

5. Will I still have good exposure on the search engines if I use Flash?

Doing too much in Flash will sacrifice exposure on the search engines. In other words, the engines will not have enough text on which to base their indexing. If access to your site through the search engines is important to your success, be sure that you don't overdo it on the Flash side.

6. Do I rely on non-vector graphics?

Non-vector graphics, such as photographs, are not easy for Flash to process. This means that animations in Flash using this type of imagery will get easily bogged down.

Another concern is that Flash does not cache (or store) non-vector images, therefore they must be reloaded each time. Not a pleasant thing for your visitors! This is in contrast to HTML-based scenarios where the browser will cache the imagery for instant retrieval.

As you can see, Flash is not always the right solution. This is true of any aspect of Web development, where you need to research your options carefully and choose the right combination of tools that works best for you. If you seek outside help, make sure you find a team with the right expertise and a solid track record to back it up. Good luck!

Josh Barinstein is President of Red Frog, Inc., the Southern California ad agency that provides worry-free experiences and powerful results in the areas of Marketing, Print design, and Web/CD-ROM development. Learn more at www.RedFrogInc.com or by calling us at 888-955-0550.

© 2004 Josh Barinstein

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