Attention Macromedia: I Will not be Your Scapegoat (editorial)
Last Friday ZDNet released an interview with Rob Burgess, CEO of Macromedia. In the interview Burgess placed the blame for bad Flash content on the shoulders of the designers and developers using Flash. As Burgess put it, "That [bad Flash on the web] is not the problem of the tool. That's the problem of the designer." OK, sure I can agree with that, Macromedia is not creating Flash content for clients. Macromedia is certainly no more responsible for bad Flash content than Smith & Wesson is for deaths caused by guns, right?
Wrong. Macromedia has hardly lifted a finger to stop the flood of poor Flash solutions on the web. In fact, they have encouraged it by awarding Site of the Day (SOTD) status to some of the most unusable web sites out there. Macromedia has written the book on poor product use for its developers. If Smith & Wesson were to take a page from Macromedia's book they would award the Columbine killers with gold plated guns for their actions.
Just where does Macromedia think that Flash developers are looking for inspiration? Flazoom.com? We could be so lucky. Instead Flash developers look to the mothership, the creators of the Flash authoring tool for ideas on how to use Flash. Our clients look there too, wanting to see what the leading company for web development software says is the top of the line in site design. Both developers and their clients check out the SOTD to see what new techniques are getting Macromedia's blessing. Unfortunately, that blessing has been given all too often for fluff, glitz, and flash.
Macromedia has been so irresponsible to the needs of its users that well known web pundit Jakob Nielsen proclaims that Flash is 99% bad. The damage is not only in the form of editorials and online soapboxes, there are other signs:
- Corporate firewalls block Flash content due to the impression that there is no good Flash online.
- The 'Skip Intro' button has become the second most frequently used button on the web (right after the back button).
- Clients are becoming more reluctant to accept that Flash is a solution to their communication needs.
Macromedia has to wake up to the fact that much of the blame for bad Flash content on the web originates with them. A company can not promote bad usability with every award it hands out and then blame the developers for their products poor reputation. Instead the company should be seeking out developers who are using the benefits of Flash to make their web sites load faster, be more stable and increase usability. These sites may not be the coolest or the glitziest, but they are valuable examples that Flash developers should be exposed to.
While it is easy to say that Macromedia gave us a tool that puts bread on our table while allowing us to be the wacky, creative, designers we need to be, designers put bread on Macromedia's table by using that product in a way that puts it in high demand. If our clients get turned off to Flash because of the reasons above, where will Macromedia be in the long run?
Passing the blame is not the solution that developers need. Nor is waiting for a form of online Darwinism the solution either, which is what Burgess seems to hope for (as he says "The laws of survival also help with that [getting rid of bad Flash] as well.") Macromedia has to take responsibility for their actions and start working hard to correct the mistakes of the past.
There is some hope. Macromedia has announced that they are making an effort to improve certain usability aspects of Flash through the Macromedia Flash Accessibility Developer Kit. The kit will contain guidelines, Smart Clips, and sample code to support development efforts. Future enhancements to the Macromedia Flash Player are also planned, allowing access to underlying data within a Macromedia Flash (SWF) file, permitting the text within to be interpreted by assistive devices, a much needed change of direction from a company that has led developers down a dark path for so long.
Are these announcements from Macromedia enough to change the reputation that Flash content has built for its self on the web? The answer may well be too little too late unless Flash developers take heed of good design, usability and accessability principles. Should Flash developers choose to follow Macromedia's SOTD examples, then we can expect our clients to loose all desire for Flash content.
In June I outlined a series of questions for Flash developers to think about before choosing Flash for a project. These questions are more relevant today than ever.
- Is Flash the only solution for your problem?
- Is Flash the most effective solution?
- Can you solve the problem with HTML?
- Is Flash the best possible solution for your visitors?
- If you use Flash, do you plan on providing a non-flash alternative?
Join the discussion, add your comments about this editorial.
Special thanks go to Corbin Russell for assistance and input into the creation of this editorial.