Useless use of flash

Once upon a time, the renowned Perl wizard Randal L. Schwartz used to issue a series of “useless use of cat” awards to posters on the usenet newsgroup that abused the “cat” utility for purposes other than which it was intended.

The classic UUoC was something like:

$ cat file | grep foo

The UUoC awards highlighted the most egregious misuses – the cat utility is designed for concatenating two files, not for display of a single file, and certianly not as the first stage of a pipe.

On the modern web, we see similar occurrences with Flash in websites, where it has no business being used.

Flash is useful when it does something that web standards either can’t do, or can’t do easily. Flash is useless when it adds nothing to the content of the site that can’t be duplicated with a few lines of JavaScript and CSS.

Interacting with webcam and microphone? Useful.

Embedding a video game into a web page? Useful.

Performing rollover effects on a link? Useless.

Playing a slideshow? Useless.

Displaying advertising? Useless.

Playing video? Still useful. (But on the way out, thanks to HTML5 video).

Useless use of flash is a more serious violation than useless use of cat ever was – instead of costing you a process, it costs every visitor to your website a process, along with the memory that goes with it. It also costs accessibility – assistive technologies like screen readers and braille terminals don’t really work for flash.

Using Flash when it’s not called for is a demonstration of laziness and incompetence on the part of web designers – it’s unprofessional, and it needs to stop.  I’m going to start highlighting examples of useless use of flash (UUoF) when I see them, in the hope that it will draw attention to the epidemic of poor web design that is a UUoF.

There are many examples out there, and I plan to start showcasing the worst of them here 🙂


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