Flash in Web sites can be hindered by culture, budget

TORONTO – Web sites incorporating Flash, Web animation technology from Adobe Systems Inc., used to be more of a niche occurrence, but now the desire among users for rich content has “just exploded,” according to a platform evangelist with the San Jose, Calif.-based company.

Lee Brimelow said today’s users expect to find Flash-infused Web sites available everywhere, on all manner of devices – and Adobe, too, wants every person to eventually be able to view content on a Flash player regardless of platform. “The demands for what they expect are so much higher,” said Brimelow, during a panel discussion, about how companies are communicating with screen-generation customers, at FITC 2009.

“Flash used to be all about craziness animation … and it still is … but now, people expect the functionality of a desktop application in the browser,” said Brimelow.

But according to panelist Geoff Whitlock, president of Toronto-based Life Capture Interactive Inc., not everyone is catching on to the multi-platform rich media approach to selling their wares. “We want to be that central body that recommends technologies, recommends approaches,” said Whitlock, but he said some customers are stuck in either the single-platform or siloed concept of rich media advertising.

But while it’s exciting to create highly-immersive user experiences, Whitlock and his design team must be cognizant of the fact that some customers don’t necessarily have the time to devote to such a project nor do they need to be given the perceived expectations of their audience, said Whitlock.

“We have some pretty dry clients like President’s Choice and Deloitte. They’re not putting a Flash banner on their site, let alone having someone go into an immersive experience on their site,” he said. They choose instead to display information “flat on a page” as that is what is deemed expected, he said.

That nonetheless presents an opportunity for designers, said Whitlock, to provide the option of a more immersive experience beyond the traditional flat text, accessible by clicking on a separate button on the site.

That single-platform or siloed mindset among customers, however, is changing, noted Whitlock, as more digitally savvy people assume positions within those organizations.

Panelist Joshua Hirsch, minister of technology with Brooklyn, New York-based Big Spaceship LLC, said some customers are held back by a particular mindset that dictates the degree of risk they are willing to take when it comes to interacting with their customers. “It’s a matter of culture,” said Hirsch, pointing out that large organizations like Nike Inc. and General Electric Co. have done quite well in offering an immersive user experience.

Whitlock noted that the roadblock sometimes lies in a failure to align the cost of such an endeavour with the business problem at hand, “and sometimes larger brands don’t see that cost match against what the business problem actually requires to be fixed.”

While these companies may understand the allure and value of an immersive user experience, they just can’t get it to work with the budget’s bottom line, said Whitlock.

More conservative companies, said Brimelow, have approached interactive user experiences on a smaller scale, in such a way that doesn’t affect their traditional brand.

But Brimelow noted that in general, in the past, there has been a “gratuitous use” of Flash, with the technology having been misued on sites where it was really not necessary. He recommends using Flash wisely, only where appropriate. “We recommend a balanced approach,” Brimelow said.

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