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What the heck is Flash good for?

Flash is a fairly pervasive rich client framework for web applications. Some folks have issues with it. I’ve seen plenty of examples of that; the Bonnaroo site is an example of how Flash . Some folks think it’s the future of the internet. I like it, when it’s used for good purpose, and I thought I’d share a few of my favorite flash applications:

1. Ishkur’s guide to electronic music has an annoying intro, but after that, it’s pure gold. Mapping the transitions and transformations of electronic music, complete with commentary and sample tracks, I can’t imagine a better way to get familiar with musical genres and while away some time.

2. They Rule is an application that explores the web of relationships among directors on boards of public companies. Using images, it’s much easier to see the interconnectedness of the boards.

3. A couple of short animated pieces: Teen Girl Squad follows the (amateurly drawn) exploits of, well, a set of four teenage girls, and a cute movie about love (originally from

Of course, these all beg the question: what is a rich client good for (other than cool movies)? When is it appropriate to use Flash (or ActiveX, or XUL) rather than plain old (D)HTML? I wish I knew the answer, but it seems to me that there are a couple of guidelines.

1. How complicated is the data? And how complicated is the representation of that data? The more complicated, the more you should lean towards rich clients. I can’t imagine the electronic guide to music being half as effective if it was done in html.

2. How savvy are your users? This cuts both ways–if the users aren’t savvy, then the browser may be a comfortable, familiar experience. However, sometimes rich clients can ‘act smarter’ and make for a better user experience.

3. How large is your userbase? The larger, the more you should tend towards a thin, pervasive client like the browser, since that will ease deployment issues.

I used to think Flash was unabatedly evil, but I’m now convinced that, in some cases, it really makes a lot of sense.