Flash or HTML website?

20 05 2008

/* Please note the term “Flash” and “HTML” in this post should not be defined as their precise technical meanings. The target reader of this post should be anyone who needs a website but cannot decide whether to use Flash or HTML and why. */

When it comes to choosing the right technology for your website, the following question comes up a lot: “Should we have a Flash site? Or HTML is OK?” It is not an easy question, but I am gonna talk about the pros and cons of them both, from a couple of different perspectives.

[LOADING] A Flash site typically preloads a good chunk of data (site structure, some visual assets, etc.) up-front before it can show anything at all, while HTML sites pops a small part on the page right away (some text, an image, etc.). So the initial wait for a HTML site to load can be less than for a Flash site, however Flash sites can display better-designed and more detailed loading information and can better handle user expectation.

[DESIGN] Flash sites offer much more flexibility to designers than HTML sites. Animated transitions, audio, video, 3D, fullscreen, etc., you name it. This is probably the best strength of Flash sites. HTML sites tend to look more “box-y” by nature, which could be good or boring.

[USER EXPERIENCE] One of the biggest difference b/t Flash and HTML sites is that HTML sites, by nature, are page-based. When you click on a link in an HTML web page, chances are the current page is gone within milliseconds and a new page which might look completely different will pop up. You might say the experience is jarring. In comparison, on Flash sites, instead of the entire page gone, visual elements on the old page can fade out nicely or fly out one by one, depending on the design, then elements of the new page can fade in nicely or fly in one by one. Or, even some of the elements will stay on the page, will just resize themselves, or reposition themselves to make room for the new elements to come. In one sentence, Flash sites typically offer much smoother and more pleasant user experience, if designed well.

[BACK, FORWARD, and BOOKMARK] HTML sites are page-based, so users can use browsers’ built-in “back” “forward” buttons to navigate through different pages in a site and can bookmark any page of a site. However Flash sites typically do a poor job integrating these functions. (There are ways to make them work with Flash sites, however it requires the Flash developers to plan ahead, and to spend extra development time.)

[SEO] SEO = search engine optimiz(e)/ation. It is normally expected that your site is search engine optimized so that users can be directed to your site from Google. HTML sites are much easier to be programmed to be SEO-ed. However, search engines are not doing a great job indexing Flash sites, at least not yet. Again, it CAN be done with Flash sites, but it requires a good Flash developer a good amount of development effort.

[CROSS-BROWSER and CROSS-PLATFORM] Compared to HTML sites, Flash sites look and perform much more consistent and predictable than HTML sites. It takes a good designer and a good HTML developer to make HTML site cross-browser and cross-platform the way you want it.

[MAINTENANCE] There are ways to make content of HTML sites and Flash sites dynamic and easy-to-update. Which one takes more effort totally depends.

[COST] Typically, to develop a Flash site takes 2-4 times the time needed for an HTML site, even longer if you want to include SEO features in your site. Not to mention the fact Flash developers are more expensive than HTML developers in general.

As an Internet surfer for fun, I love the varieties in Flash site design styles. However as a site visitor looking for information, I don’t have a preference one way or another. It all depends on who your target audience is, what message you want to convey and how much your budget is. Let me end my post with a URL to a site I like, which includes both an HTML version and a Flash version. Check it out here.




One response

20 05 2009

This site is put together well!

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