Flash for everything!

So, I’ve been meaning to write up my thoughts on this since Jason commented on the use of sIFR for typographic headlines. As is my way, it took me awhile to get to it which is fortunate because I just read about BritePic (via techcrunch) – so now, there being two, it’s a trend. Yup, you read it here first.

So what these both are trying to do is use flash to “enhance” something that we could, at least to some extent, already do. In sIFR’s case it lets you make a nice headline in a fancy font out of text – before this you would either be forced to use one of the websafe fonts or else create an image for every headline you wanted to create. That worked for when you were making logos and section heads, but not if you needed something really dynamic. And in BritePic’s case it takes the good old html img tag and replaces it with a flash player that let’s you do some more interesting things with it (like serve ads or let people email the pic to friends, etc…).

I’m kind of mixed about these things, both have strengths and weaknesses. In sIFR’s case, its strength is that it allows you to do something that really wasn’t possible prior to it – most folks don’t have the ability to make images for dynamic text. It’s also great that it has such a nice failure mode – it defaults to showing you your css styled text if the browser can’t handle the javascript. However, the directions for it’s use seem a bit difficult as well as seeming to require Flass Professional, which definitely does not make it “for the Masses.”

BritePic on the other hand replaces the standard img tag with some fanciness all of it’s own. I personally didn’t see any functional failure in the img tag and wonder if BritePic is a solution looking for a problem. It extends img by allowing you to add your logo or an ad which you can revenue share in (the powered by BritePic ad at the top, however is not optional) and it adds the ubiquitous checklist of social features (email, link, rss, etc..) as options.

I don’t know if this is going to take off or not, but while I think it is interesting as a concept in practice I’m a little annoyed by it. Do pictures themselves need ads? Websites are good at placing ads on their pages why does every individual picture need one? With the powered by BritePic at the top, the size of the image is increased, and we know how valuable screen real estate is. The logo seems superfluous – it isn’t a watermark on the image, so if someone wants to steal your un-logo’d image, they still can. And why would you need a temporary logo on the image when it is already on your site? The social networking bits take users to BritePic’s site – not yours. So where as before I might have linked to your page with the image on it, now with that little menu item there I’ll use that, since it is so easy, and link to BritePic’s site. But you’ll still foot the bill on the bandwidth for the image, since it is pulling from your server. The zoom feature is pretty interesting, but will ultimately be problematic if you start uploading images of significantly greater resolution – you’ll be causing much higher download time for a feature that most likely few will use. A simple on demand javascript like lightbox (or litebox or thickbox), seems a better solution to this problem.

In general I think the growing use of flash is very promising but also perilous, as Uncle Ben said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Flash has that knack of essentially taking elements out of the web, rendering them invisible to search engines and breaking the navigational structure of the internet. When done right, like sIFR, it can provide needed functionality while adhering to the structure of the internet, using javascript and an unintrusive programming style. And while I won’t say that BritePic is done wrong, I think that it is an experimental tool with just a “let’s see what happens” attitude. It doesn’t solve any existing problems, removes elements from the traditional structure of the web (images no longer are images), may not degrade well (if I don’t have the right flash version, will I simply not get any images?) and to me represents a too trigger-happy view of what flash can do.

I wonder if some fancy unintrusive javascript could just “enhance” regular images, combining a thickbox and a little popup menu for particular social functions. I’d guess this is possible and not too far off from happening, it would have the benefit of using regular images and just being enhancing functionality that doesn’t break anything if you don’t have javascript turned on.

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