So, You Want Online Animation?
Traditionally, Adobe Flash has been used for online animation because it has incredible market penetration. Adobe estimates that over 98% of visitors have a recent version of Flash installed on their computer. Because of this, it's relatively safe to assume that your visitors will be able to view your Flash content. Recently, Flash has been used as a way to effectively distribute video content. It's used on nearly every popular video site, such as YouTube, and has greatly improved the compatibility of online video.
Of course, that doesn't mean that Flash is always bad. In fact, in many cases (such as online video) Flash is the best choice. It's always important to use the right tool for the job.
- Site Navigation
With very few exceptions, you should NEVER have links within a Flash animation. This is especially true for your site's main navigation. This breaks certain browser functionality such as opening links in new tabs or windows. This will frustrate some of your visitors. In addition, it prevents visitors without Flash from browsing your site at all, including the growing number of people with web-enabled cellphones and PDAs.
- Usability Considerations
Users have certain expectations from a web site. For example, when they click the "Back" button, they expect to go back one page. A site built entirely in Flash will often prevent this. This has probably happened to you: you're browsing a site and advance several pages, then you click the back button and mysteriously you are teleported back to the home page. This is frustrating to visitors and could result in lost customers. There may be times when it makes sense to sacrifice the "Back" button (as we have in our People and Work sections), but you need to think it through and be sure the benefits outweigh the cost.
- Search Engine Optimization
- Audio and Video Content
Unless your visitors need to download the multimedia files to their computer, Flash is by far the best option for adding audio and video to your web site. Quicktime, RealPlayer, Silverlight and Windows Media don't have near the market penetration that Flash does. However, audio and video are often used inappropriately. The key is avoiding anything that slows down your visitors. The online audience is notoriously impatient. Before adding that three-minute corporate video as a Flash intro, ask yourself how it will affect the impatient guy who's just looking for your phone number. All lengthy multimedia content should be "on demand" or easy to mute and/or skip.
- Web Site Statistics
Recommendation: Neither, unless statistics are unnecessary or you use a workaround.
For each of the issues I've mentioned, there are workarounds and exceptions and I probably haven't even scratched the surface of this growing area of web development. However, these are some of the most important things that you need to think about when you decide to spruce up your web site with animation.
To get our latest articles when they are posted, please subscribe by e-mail or RSS.