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Introduction

Introduction

I really wanted to call this book Replacing Web Pages with Applications. Or, something even more provocative such as The End of Web Pages. Considering that Macromedia Flash is the tool that will bring such changes, I suppose it’s only fair it’s in the title. But I still think we’re at the beginning of a real change.

When new technologies arise, people tend to impress old metaphors onto them. If you look at the first motion pictures, they’re little more than a camera pointed at a stage play. When D. W. Griffith decided to move the camera to different positions and insert carefully timed edits, it was a major revolution. In the case of the web, the whole concept of “pages” comes from books. Books are good at what they do, so there’s no point trying to re-create books on the web. Instead, we need to exploit the computer for what it is good at. In many ways, we still don’t know what that is. I’m convinced, however, that the computer’s calling is certainly more than just displaying “pages.”

Even Flash’s short history is marked by mini-milestones. The original gabocorp.com site convinced a generation of Flash developers that a site with little more than an interface and natural transitions could be really cool. Then, yugop.com (built in Flash 4 no less) blew everyone away by showing that you can use math to animate. And then the first examples shown on wireframe.co.za demonstrated practical ways to apply isometric math to make things look realistic. You can also find countless cases where Flash cartoons using sophomoric humor rose to cult status.

The point about many such examples is that although they certainly help Flash advance, they don’t necessarily offer something better than an alternative. That is, they’re cool and there’s nothing like them, but it’s not as though average folks say “ah, now that’s going to help me do this better.” Flash users might say “wow, someone’s going to use this for something practical—eventually.” I suppose this is part of the reason another milestone in Flash history was Dr. Jakob Nielsen’s article, “Flash: 99% Bad.” My point here is only that Flash needed a push toward usability; otherwise, it would have continued to chart its own course as just a cool animation tool.

Note

To be fair to the revolutionaries responsible for the sites mentioned previously, I should add this note: I know for a fact that they have gone on to make practical and usable applications.

Also, I don’t want to ever suggest that animation is only useful for entertainment or eye-candy. In fact, it’s as important and unique a communication medium as pictures or words.


Although Dr. Nielsen may have pushed Flash toward usability, we still aren’t to the point where people immediately think of Flash when they need to solve a problem. It would seem the obvious goal for Flash would be to replace existing applications that use traditional technologies such as HTML. However, this makes sense only if Flash could do something notably better. That is, if I could replace your email software with Flash, would you be any better off? You wouldn’t, unless my Flash emailer was markedly better in some way. Just “spicing up” an application by redoing it in Flash is no better than colorizing a black-and-white movie. The target for Flash applications needs to be solving otherwise unresolved problems. In a way, this takes more creativity because you have to think of new ideas. On the other hand, if Flash is well-suited to solve the problem, it’ll be easy to make a case for your application because it won’t compete with other technologies.

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