Using Flash Sensibly.
So you know Flash can be used for bad things, but you think your website would really benefit from it. Well, while you need to know what you're doing, there's absolutely no reason why Flash can't be used entirely sensibly, to make your website better and provide useful information or entertainment for your visitors. So, in this article, let's take a look at the things Flash is suited for.
Flash's number one use is games, where it's simply the best solution for the web. The alternative, really, is the slow-loading, ugly Java disaster, and there's just no contest. Flash lets you easily provide interactive games that go far beyond anything that could ever be done in HTML or DHTML, with Flash's slick animation capabilities producing a well-recognised graphical format that many feel to be ideal for small games, especially puzzles and 'classic' games.
Make no mistake: all the most popular games on the web are offered in a Flash version, perhaps with a downloadable version for purchase alongside. People don't want to go to the trouble of downloading and running programs just to play games, especially considering that what they're downloading could be a virus – Flash is the ideal solution here.
Another format that Flash is very good for is entirely non-interactive cartoons – take a look at homestarrunner.com for a famous example. Flash's bold lines and easy animation tools give Flash cartoons a distinct style, and make it easy to create long-running cartoon series.
Once you get used to the 'Flash look', you might even notice that some of the cartoons on TV nowadays have it too. That's because plenty of 'real' cartoons are now produced with Flash, since it makes it so easy to animate things on a computer without having to send off hand-drawn scenes to be animated.
By this point, you might be thinking that the only good uses of Flash seem to be for kids. Well, you'd be wrong. Flash is also a very good tool for presenting statistics in a creative way: the way that it lets you produce graphics easily from numbers and scripts makes it an ideal tool for this. There are plenty of websites out there with dull Excel-produced charts and graphs that would really benefit from a Flash makeover.
When you do this, though, do be careful of using excessive animation. Sure, it's fine for the bars of a chart to grow until they reach where they should be, but don't do it too slowly, or you'll lose the audience in the process. Likewise, never move things around without input from the user – the reaction that tends to provoke is "hey, I was looking at that!" If you keep your Flash sober, restrained and relatively static, though, it can be a real winner for this kind of application.
Used properly, then, Flash can be just as effective for real-time stock market data as it is for games and animations – which makes it a very unusual kind of program. This is part of the power of Flash, and the reason it survives on the web today, despite its more annoying uses.
A Word of Warning.
However, before you do use Flash for any of the things listed above, it's worth noting that your visitors still won't like coming across it unexpectedly, no matter how nice a use you put it to. For this reason, you should always label links that go to a page with Flash with the word 'Flash' in brackets, like this:
Watch our latest cartoon [Flash]
See our performance projections [Flash]
If you don't do this, you'll get just as many back-button clickers as you would with any other Flash – when users don't know what's coming and something unexpected happens, their instinct is to panic and get out of there as soon as they can. If you make sure that your site is predictable and always keeps them informed of where they're going next, then you'll make them much happier.