litany against fear

coding with spice ¤ by nick quaranto

Digg Labs: Flash doesn’t suck all the time.

published 31 Oct 2007

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an expert on Flash. I haven’t even made anything special in flash. Yeah, I can tween a circle and bounce it around the stage, and that’s the extent of my Flash knowledge. One thing I do know about it: if you want to drive traffic from Google searches, you’re better off not using it. Some bloggers even claim its use to be evil. Now I’m sure there’s a lot of Adobe fans are ready and willing to tear me a new one by now with arguments about how Flex and AIR will change the face of the interweb, but it’s my opinion and always will be that your website’s MAIN content should NEVER be in Flash. Let’s look at the letters you type into that address bar of your browser at least once every day: HTTP. Hyper. Text. Not animations, or effects, but text. Until that protocol changes I doubt Flash will ever be used as a serious web design platform.

Once again, don’t get me wrong. Flash has its uses. In fact, it’s completely changed how we use the web. Newgrounds and YouTube immediately spring to mind, as they spawned entire communities and one could say even industries. Flash even has practical uses within sites, such as SWFUpload or various visualization tools that are used even inside of Google’s own pages.

The real magic of Flash is combining its content together with publicly available APIs and doing what Flash does best, even better than Java in some respects: being platform independent. Digg Labs is a perfect example of this, and their contests are a testament to the real future of Flash and its real use on the internet. Digg Labs is the perfect mash-up: content generated by users and displayed in a (semi) useful, interactive, and fun way. Now, you can even get them to be your screensaver on Windows or OSX. I tried for a long while to turn some of the Digg Labs .swf files into screensavers before, but it’s quite a nightmare without the right tools, and all the right data from the Digg servers.

What’s so special about Digg Labs creations is that unlike other visualizations of just raw data, be it traffic to your website or your network speed shown to you on a speedometer, you can actually interact with it. You can see the user who just dugg that story, and you can go check it out for yourself. Yes, it may be flooded with an overwhelming amount of Ron Paul stories at the moment, but at least it’s not the HD-DVD encryption key, or even worse.

Other websites out there really need to look into Flash for this purpose. This is a unique and fun way to engage your community while providing an actual useful way to access your site’s data. Be it Reddit, which I would literally love to see an exact clone of Digg Labs for (or even both together in one app…Blasphemy!), or Facebook, or any Web 2.0 site, they could really use some Flash visualization/interaction apps that can run on your desktop via a screensaver, Flash executable, or AIR. Imagine pictures from your friends on Facebook showing up in real time on your desktop or links pouring in under a certain tag in a nice animated fashion. All of the buzz about Google’s Open Social and bringing out more APIs into the public for use makes this the perfect environment for more Flash goodness like Digg Labs to happen.

So yeah, Flash doesn’t suck all the time. Its niche on the internet continues to expand, but some part of me hopes I’ll never have to learn more than how to move that red circle around the stage.

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