Flash is the new black

by

iMedia Connection

 

Flash has evolved in the dozen years since it launched. Learn how to make its new capabilities work for you.

If you right-click your mouse on any online video today, you’ll see that the video is powered by Adobe’s Flash. If you’ve done any online advertising, you know Flash is great for making animated — and even interactive — banners. But one exciting capability of Flash that has been slowly taking root is the understanding of Flash as a platform — not merely a tool — that can do just about anything imaginable, from powering multiplayer online games to word processors and, yes, video. In fact, it is continuing to grow onto mobile platforms and even off the internet, ironic as that may sound.

Today, 12 years after the launch of Flash, it is worth a look to see how the platform has grown and how its new capabilities can prove useful to you.

Now with less installing
One of the most difficult — and oldest — challenges faced by software companies is that of convincing computer users to install their software. The challenge manifests itself in the form of incompatibilities in operating systems, fear of viruses, or just a lack of an understanding in how to install an application or game.

With Flash and today’s almost commonplace access to internet connections, it is now possible to engage your users without forcing them to make that critical installation step. Because popular technologies such as Action Scripting, built into Flash, do not need to reside on your desktop, it is possible to run complex, interactive applications or games directly online at any time of the day.

Online video finally possible
Video in online advertisements used to be painful to watch. With a plethora of file formats — WMV, AVI, MP4 etc. — and an equally dizzying array of players — Windows Media, QuickTime, Real Player etc. — it was painful for users to install a new application to view online content. For most users, it was barely worth the effort. Early online video also suffered from file size problems since early internet connections were too slow to accommodate the (then) enormous videos.

Since Flash started supporting video — and since it came pre-installed on the overwhelming majority of computers around the world — the question of installing software to view video disappeared almost overnight. There is now no reason not to consider including video in online advertisements.

Plays well with others
In online advertising’s frontier days, when internet connections tended to be painfully slow, the animated .GIF format was the standard for banner advertisements. Then Flash came along and took the industry to the next level. With this technology, marketers gained the ability to use eye-catching animations while retaining the small file size critical to maintaining an enjoyable experience for users.

Today, Flash works in tandem with other programming languages and media to combine animations as well as sounds, videos, interactivity and even the ability to synchronize multiple banners on a single page. This made it possible, for example, for a basketball player rendered in Flash on one side of your screen to pass his ball to a player on the other side of the screen, much to the delight of users.

Be strategic, but don’t overdo it
While the platform has evolved over the years, one thing has not — the need to create an excellent user experience. To this end, gaining an intimate, almost empathic understanding of the needs and interests of your users is critical. Ask yourself if you are being strategic in your use of the platform, for example, by determining what elements will support your brand and message while still catching the eye of your target audience.

For a publisher of biographies, an online game may not be the best way to capture the attention of a mature audience, but an interview with the author — based in a skyscraper banner on the side of a book review site — certainly will. This has the side benefit of being easier to create and execute.

The context of where the Flash object will be appearing is important, too. If you are designing a 180×150-pixel banner, interactivity of any kind may be impractical since the object is too small to be a functional source of data.

Going forward
Flash is undeniably part of today’s desktop user experience, and will be part of tomorrow’s mobile experience, too. Adobe Labs (a source for early knowledge into the emerging products and technologies at Adobe) is working to develop Flash to become more accessible to the mobile phone market since data connections are becoming commonplace among mobile phones.

Adobe also recently launched “Air,” a product that uses Flash to allow developers to create applications and even games that work on the desktop — even without an internet connection. This development will allow users to take their favorite sites or services with them when they go offline — and that means taking you and your brand with them.

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