Flash sites are many things to many people… they are a way to avoid many of the irksome limitations of conventional web pages, something that is particularly galling to people whose background is in print design. And certainly Flash is indeed a splendid tool that delivers remarkable capabilities to artists.
And therein lies part of the problems: how many sites have you seen which looked absolutely marvelous, yet were a nightmare to navigate? Of course clunky sites can be found in HTML as well, but the graphic intensive nature of Flash sites seems to have the effect of making designers do things because they can, not because they are a good idea from a site navigation point of view. Freed from the constraints of HTML, designers tend to think they are also freed from following the conventions of web navigation (as in “Man, it could be so cool if you navigated by mousing over this image and..."). Wrong, wrong, wrong! When a person picks up a boo, in a western country at least, regardless of the content insider they expect the book to open like every other book they have read… just because you can make a book with two spines that opens in the middle does not mean you should make your book work that way. The ‘tyranny of custom’ might affront the web designer’s inner artist but web designers need to be constantly reminded that a web page is a ‘content delivery system’ and not an end in and of itself to show how clever the designer is. Now it might seem harsh to critisise Flash sites just because of the way people use it rather than any inherent defects of Flash itself. I actually think Flash is a splendid thing when used in moderation for banners and other design features, it is just 100% Flash sites I dislike.
However of course there are some serious problem with Flash that has nothing to do with incomprehensible navigation due to impenetrable designs… Firstly Flash sites tend to be slow and people hate waiting. Secondly not everyone uses Flash enabled browsers (sure, most do but by no means everyone). Thirdly and most importantly, the biggest flaw is that Flash sites might as well be invisible to Google and most other search engines, which is a huge disadvantage. In many ways this makes them the polar opposite of blogs because if blogs are ‘websites optimised for the network effect’ then Flash sites are websites which minimise the ability of people to find your content.
And seeing as networking content is what the internet is all about, that makes pure Flash sites… EVIL
So why are there so many pure Flash sites out there? Well my theory is that clients tend not to understand that the whole point of the internet is to use the network to diffuse their content in the best way possible, they see their website as a brochure not all that different to a printed one. As a result, the more visually attractive a site is, the better, right? Now do not think I have anything against good looking sites (and I modestly hold our site up as an example of an attractive non-Flash site), but in the end content rather than eye-candy is king.
Designers like to design and you can just do things in Flash that are much harder or impossible to do in HTML. So they create this wonderful all singing and dancing site and they are happy, the client is happy and the internet end user is… either absent because he could not find the site to begin with or annoyed because he cannot figure out how to navigate to the information he wants.
So please, do not do sites entirely in Flash. Use it for banners and nifty site enhancements by all means but treat it like Cognac: best taken in moderation.