Flash, an interactive, multimedia format, was introduced to web design only a few years ago. It was heralded as an absolute breakthrough in Internet technology. Web designers were soon rushing to add Flash to website after website. Unfortunately, Flash, while sometimes quite useful, proved sometimes to be more of a headache than a help.

So do you need Flash on your website? As with virtually any web design question, the answer is: it depends. Here are some guidelines to help your decision. There are several benefits to Flash, namely the addition of interactive multimedia, as well as potentially adding a ‘high-tech’ element to your website presentation. The drawbacks, however, can often make Flash a hindrance to your goals.

To use Flash, most web surfers must download the plug-in for their browser. While many of your potential customers will already have the plug-in, some will not. These few people are not likely to take the time to download a program just to view your content. Also, Flash raises quite a number of compatibility issues with older and non-mainstream web browsers, cell phones, and PDA’s. Perhaps the biggest downside is that most content you put in a Flash presentation is not accessible by search engines, which can potentially hurt your traffic. Finally, Flash can add significant download time for those not on a high speed connection, which will turn off many potential customers. Web surfers are not a patient breed.

It is important to first think of how Flash would fit into your overall goals for website presentation. Think of your target market, your overall website ‘look’, and your business image. A company selling rare books or athletic shoes, for instance, would be unlikely to benefit from a Flash presentation. While both of these examples could profit from an interactive feature about their product, smart HTML, along with CSS, could produce a presentation just as effective as Flash without the drawbacks.

I would not say that Flash is never an appropriate tool for your website; only that its use should be carefully considered and only implemented when necessary. An example of a website that would benefit from Flash would be a website trying ot feature a product and a very eye catching fashion. A Flash presentation demonstrating the product could be very effective marketing in this case.

If you decide that Flash is appropriate, a wise web design rule of thumb is to always make the content available via a standard hyperlink, as opposed to automatically being displayed. This allows you to offer the content without turning off potential customers who either don’t desire or can’t display Flash.

The key think to remember about Flash is that, while it definitely can earn ‘cool points’ for your website, it also has the potential to do more harm than good. In the vast majority of instances, smart HTML and CSS can accomplish the same goals as a Flash presentation. As with anything, think of your customer first, and make sure that your decision serves their needs above all else.

Do not use Flash on your home page (index) as many corporates do as this gets very annoying, even with the 'Skip Intro' button. I seem to land of these pages at three in the morning when everyone else is asleep - where there is one of the top 10 loud, classical orchestra pieces, beloved of the corporates, blasts out.

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