Flash vs. web apps, again

Macromedia is fortunate to have two things going for it: Kevin Lynch, who seems like a smart guy, and Dreamweaver, which won’t let the company forget about HTML.

My expectations were very low for the Macromedia.com beta report, but truthfully there is some good stuff in there. Macromedia will not be successful pushing their Rich Internet Application strategy without educating customers when to use Flash, when to stick with HTML and core web technologies, and when to combine both. The report feels honest. Here’s the take-home point:

“Content and applications should coexist. The most successful sites will walk the delicate balance of using Macromedia Flash and HTML together to create engaging, effective experiences.”

Anil Dash said at SXSW, about why audio blogs suck: “They break the web to me in all the ways Flash does.” How does Flash break the web? Used poorly, it’s a glorified JPEG — no links, no URIs, no back/forward button in the browser, no user control. Ironically, Macromedia was held up as a good example in Jesse James Garrett’s user-centered URL design essay, and that URL consistency remains on the new site. Obviously there are people at Macromedia who get it. When the report says “Internally, there was a lot of debate about the home page”, you can read between the lines and imagine the different camps fighting it out in meetings.

I had a great lunch conversation with Trei Brundrett of Handwire last week about Flash vs. traditional web applications. He had experimented with a completely Flash front-end for a previously web-based content management system, with disappointing results (slow load times and decreased usability). Other web developers that go down this path might also find themselves questioning their decision, depending on the project. There are small studios producing entire animated television series using Flash! You have to wonder if the same tool is also appropriate for building software user interfaces.

It’s great to see Macromedia eating their own dog food. I wonder if it will change their rhetoric on Rich Internet Applications a year from now.