Thursday, September 08, 2005

Too Rich?

Yesterday while eating lunch in the Union with a few fellow CS
students, we were discussing things geek like we usually do. There
was some banter about flavors of Linux servers versus Windows servers,
various technologies .NET, JSP, PHP, but of most interest to me
yesterday DHTML or Flash. Let me premise this discussion by putting
forth a couple of general statements.

First, I am not a designer, so most of what I am saying comes from my
personal experience using the web, not as that of a usability
specialist.

Second, I know that I am not perfect; this site has some pretty major
flaws in its code validation and rendering in browsers other than
FireFox.

Third, I am not setting out to start fires. I would just like to
contribute to a discussion that I think is interesting.

That brings us back to lunch yesterday. One of the guys said that his
employer had just finished writing a .NET web service and that they
had contracted with a design firm to create a flash front end to
present it to their customers. We talked about how "slick," flash
sites look; no one could argue that they have a certain polish. A
couple of us even admitted that having Action Script as a tool in the
box would be handy. But why is it that I get tired of flash sites so
quickly?

I recently had the opportunity to click through 15 websites and choose
the one that I thought was my favorite. They were all well done, and
the flash sites were absolutely beautiful. I can't imagine how many
hours someone spent working out all of the subtle details for those
sites. It re-affirmed to me that there are a lot of very creative
people in this world that are creating amazing websites. I found
however, that I got tired very quickly of looking at the flash. It
was like a dessert that was just too rich after a couple of bites.

So what is the role of flash, and is it ever too much? I won't say
that it doesn't have its place, because it really does some cool
things (like the titles on this site for example). In the age where
we want everything to be shiny slick and new, is it becoming a rule
that if you build a web application for the masses, the best way to
give it the rich client look and feel will be to implement it with
flash, or maybe .NET 2.0?

I think that it is a give and take thing. I think Flickr as re-worked
with DHTML is a lot faster than the flash used to be. However, the
Flash in many cases was prettier. When I want information from a
site, I think I would prefer to just browse nicely formatted HTML
rather than waiting on fancy flash transitions, sounds, and waiting
for the files to load. My favorite solutions seem to be hybrids. Use
flash to do what flash does best, use HTML to do what it does best,
and all will be happy.

To skip technologies a bit, where I work, we are in the process of
re-writing many processes that were once carried out on AS/400 client
terminals to JSP's. The thing that I find most frustrating is that
while the JSP is pretty, in many cases I am much faster on the green
screen. Waiting for the page to post, and reload just seems an
incredible waste of seconds that if on the green screen would be spent
keying the next record. I don't know much about so-called 'AJAX', but
I wonder if somehow that would make things happier with moving heavy
data entry applications to the web.

It will be interesting to see how all of this pans out in the next
couple of years, or if it will even be an issue then. In the mean
time, I will tend to favor the Flash as a helper, but not as the main
medium approach.

--Sorry that there are no links, but I have yet to figure out how to
include them from the email-publishing tool with out them being
verbose.

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