One of my phpCrazySite
clients contacted me yesterday to ask my opinion of Flash websites as she was considering the benefits of having large images and the slick graphics that a Flash website can provide - - - and I was also curious as to whether my opinion should change from the one I have maintained for many years now. Technology marches on and it appears that a majority of photographers peers are utilizing Flash websites, putting pressure on everyone to conform to that look.
Well it turns out that my opinion has not changed as to my logic to NOT use Flash websites - if the goal is to attract as many viewers and potential customers as possible. Here were my thoughts presented to my CrazySite client:
While I too do really like the Flash look on many websites and the use of large images, I am in general not a fan of using Flash if the goal is to use a website to attract customers or make the experience as universal and easy as possible. For an artsy look, flash is great - for a website that is able to load as fast as possible, smaller images, no sound and html based webpages are generally the best. Regardless of whether Flash is used or html is used, large images are large images in file size and so will take much longer to load.
With Flash, the whole website is one movie (not separate pages), and large chunks must be loaded before you can view the website - that is the reason that all Flash websites have a period of time where an animated indicator displays where you need to wait for things to load before you see the website - that is the case with high speed internet so if someone has regular dial up, they will probably not wait the long period of time for a Flash website to open and in some cases may not be able to open it. This "one movie" concept also plays havock with a websites ability to be listed well in Search Engines. Then there is the fact that many current Flash websites require the latest Flash plugin be installed on the viewers computer - many potential viewers of your website do not upgrade their computer or its software (including browsers and plugins) regularly to the latest and so will not be able to view such websites, and even if prompted to download the latest plugin, may resist doing so.
Yes a large percentage of viewers will not have these problems (although I personally do not generally wait around for Flash sites to open even with high speed) - but it may be a huge number that you never know about that cannot access your website because of it being Flash based or because of poor web design using large graphics, music, etc. My thought is that many of the people who can access slow loading Flash based websites and the large files that are part of those websites - because of having the latest computers/software/upgrades along with high speed connections, are professionals, photographers and web designers - who are not always my target audience, and so when it comes down to brass tax I am less concerned about what their view is as far as their ability to load my website without problems or not.
A web search can provide many clues as to how design of a website should be approached. As an example, the current statistics for US broadband internet usage as of August 2008 are:
U.S. Ranks 15th
It is an amazing concept to grasp that the country that invented the Internet, the United States, now ranks 15th in high-speed Internet penetration. Although there has been a great deal of debate about the reliability of the various data, it is clear that there is a great deal of room for improvement to be made for Internet connection speed in the U.S.
As high speed Internet connections become more available to the general public, web designers may be compelled to relax general recommendations for the load time of web pages. Considering that two reports indicate a range of 43% to 45% of U.S. homes have Internet connections other than high speed connections and that Internet download speeds vary widely, the load time of a web page remains a fundamental design consideration.
This quote is from this source - http://r-rwebdesign.com/blog/?tag=us-broadband-statistics
And here is another similar statistic showing that while high speed internet usage is increasing and suggests that it may be the connection method of up to 55% of internet users - - - any sensible person would have to wonder about the other 45% (not an insignificant number) and their ability to access their website - http://internetstatstoday.com/?p=255
This was the GOOGLE search phrase I used to start my research - "statistics internet connection United States 2008".
Of course you shouldn't believe me, but should do your own research if there should be a concern as to how you present such a valuable customer attracting tool as your website. The above is just my personal viewpoint and I have nothing against ones who make the choice to use websites that only benefit from the latest in technology. To those who's main motivation for putting effort and cost into having a business website is to attract new clients, this may thread be a starting point to looking into the most effective way to design and present it to the masses. Hope it is of some benefit!