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When Opportunity Knocks…

December 22nd 2002 | David Vogeleer

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When Opportunity Knocks…

"When opportunity knocks" is a very old saying, and the basic idea behind it is to not let chances to improve pass you by, and right now I think Flash has one of those chances staring it in the face.

Written by David Vogeleer If you haven't noticed lately, the Internet is changing, and not just the normal changing of more and more people being "online", but changing in the sense of how people are using the Internet, and how information is moving around. This is the "Information Age" isn't it? Then why are so many sites using the same information they have always used?

People are tired of going to the same sites and seeing the same thing over and over again, when other sites are capitalizing monetarily and in popularity on current innovations to provide current timely content with relative ease.

It reminds me of the classic Christmas movie "Miracle on 34th St.". In the movie, do you remember why Macy's was able to increase their business?? It was jolly ole Chris Cringle himself telling shoppers where to find toys the children wanted. He told them about the best deals and where they would find toys that they would enjoy the most. He did this not only for Macy's, but also for all the local storefronts. This idea can be translated to the Internet by changing our approach to delivering content. Instead of providing the content that WE want them to see in the manner WE want them to see it, we should make available to them what THEY want to see the way THEY want to see it. Some sites have been able to capitalize on this idea. MySimon.com is a great example. The user tells mysimon what they want, and how they want to see it. Then mysimon.com gives it back exactly the way they asked for and how they asked for it. And if what the user is asking for is not possible, mysimon.com lets them know that as well.

Right now, you're probably wondering what on earth does this have to do with Flash; well I'm getting to that. Flat/Static html sites are becoming antiquated. Lack of content updates as well as poor design have plagued sites that were great in the beginning, but have since fallen by the way side because of lack of planning and dynamacy. And part of that is in the original design of html, a group of tags that hold, format and display information. That last part all by itself gives insight into why it is necessary to plan ahead when making dynamic html sites because html wasn't built for that purpose. It was built to have everything rolled into one package, and when it was done, it was done.

The new roles
But currently, how the Internet operates, and handles information is changing. Now information is so readily available with databases floating around, and XML being a web standard, it is becoming evident that content will be separate from display in order for the Internet to move forward at the pace it has kept since its birth. No longer is there the title of "Web Master", but instead there are three titles (or basic functions) surrounding web content. First, the content providers, and this category includes several different people. It could include writers who write marketing content and text for informational sites about a product or service, it could also include people responsible for databases, and web services. So basically the range of that category could include anyone between someone who writes an article for an online magazine all the way to amazon.com and google, two sites that have taken web services and brought them into a more public lighting.

The third (yes, we're skipping the second one and coming back to it) is the designer /displayer. It is their job to make sure that the content being displayed is pleasing to look at. To put that into perspective, imagine a newspaper where there were no pictures, or even worse, no structure. What if a newspaper just rambled on one paragraph after another with nothing showing where one article began and another ended, where the titles of that articles and the body of the article where the same font. It wouldn't be like you couldn't read it, or that the information had changed in the least bit, but the design, the layout of the content, would not be pleasing to anyone. Now comes to the second person (the one I skipped), the role that I think is most crucial in bridging the gap between data and design, the developer/translator. This job is important because it takes what the content providers are offering, and then hands off structured and in most cases, functional data to the designers in a form they can handle. The designers then display the very same content for users to view and use.

Where Flash fits in
But the third role, the designer/displayer, is the opportunity for Flash that I have alluded to in the title. As I stated earlier, html was not designed with dynamacy in mind, it was designed to hold, and format data all at once, and if someone ever wanted to update a site, they would have to go into the source code to update it. Flash on the other hand can not only hold data and format it, but it can also send and receive data then format it. This is a much larger accomplishment than a simple sentence can convey, but what it means is that an interface can be designed in Flash independent of the content, and then when the content is updated the Flash file will simply "pull in" the updated data and display it as if it had been there the entire time. Not to say that html can't do this, but html has another major downfall, the infamous "blink" between pages. The "blink" is the blank page that appears when moving from html page to html page in web sites, which confuses if not scares many new comers to e-commerce sites that don't understand that content is loading. But even if you do understand that the content is only moments away from being displayed, should we have to stare at this blank white page while we wait? Another downfall of html is its lack of interactivity, it's flat, it might as well just be an image of information. Flash on the other hand can be very interactive as well as intuitive if done right.

As you can see, we as designers and developers alike do not drive the Internet, we help to solve problems for the people that do drive the Internet, the users. And in order to push forward, it is crucial that we understand not only what the users want, but also the most efficient way to accomplish it. And Flash is a great tool to accomplish many of these goals in a small, fast and readily available format.

 

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