The most basic type of web page is a static one – a page that ... within your browser window. It doesn’t do ... You canview it, then hit your browser back button and go away again. Thi
The most basic type of web page is a static one – a page that rests docilely within your browser window. It doesn’t do anything. You can view it, then hit your browser back button and go away again. This is not the sort of page one normally sets out to create (I hope), but rather a minor but important lesson in what to avoid. Web pages exist so that the visitor can interact with them. There is an exciting quid pro quo between a site and its viewer that simply doesn’t exist in any other medium. It’s important to take advantage of that. So, what do you do? Well, the simplest form of interactivity on a page is links to other pages, whether in the form of text or snazzy buttons of one sort or another. Another way to interact with a page is to fill out a form, which offers an exchange of information (again, unique to the web, particularly in its sense of immediacy). Almost all web site hosts offer scripting support of some sort, and there are also sites that exist to do the fetch and carry work for you. Interactivity is what the web is all about – a designer’s quest may be seen to be a Zen like goal to make a site one with the person visiting it. Very cool. But the palette of surfers out there has been increasingly jaded as one whiz bang notion after another has hit the web and shaken and painted over its HTML foundations. Never lose sight of the idea that what your site looks like is perhaps the most important part of your web presence. What you say and how you say it are what keeps people coming back, but how you present it is what gets them interested in the first place. And since a form is a form is a form (to paraphrase a writer a lot better known than me) there comes a time when you must augment your toolbox in order to create a souped up model. That’s where Flash comes in – it combines the necessary strengths of interactivity with powerful animation techniques. Very very cool.
In the not-too-distant past, web based animations were almost doomed before they began due to their hefty file size trying to squeeze into the bandwidth available to it on its way from server to browser window. A scary but analogous idea might be to visualize a very large person trying to fit into a very small swimsuit. A lot gets left out. Animated GIF files, AVI and MOV files – all those are created with bitmap graphics, which basically means that each and every pixel of each and every frame must be downloaded & processed in order for it to display. Flash files, otoh, are vector based, which means that they are scalable (may be easily resized) and processed based upon the geometry within the file – curves and lines, rather than dot1, dot2, dot3. It makes for a far more compact means of displaying animated graphics. Also, Flash files are open format – intrepid and fearless third party software developers can make their mark by utilizing Flash file technology. Macromedia, the company that markets Flash, has the file specifications available for downloading at their web site (http://www.macromedia.com/software/flash/open/spec/).
The program itself is an amalgamation of a vector drawing program with a timeline-based animation creation utility. Scripts may be written to provide content interactivity. It is an extremely valuable tool to help move your site from okay to outstanding. Links to sites which incorporate Flash may be found at the Macromedia web site or by using your favorite search engines. http://www.visia.com is a good example of what Flash can do, as is the excellent “cybermercial” available at http://www.mmiusa.com/home.html.
And now the Shockwave Flash (swf) file format is obtaining a much wider acceptance. Adobe, Ulead and Corel are some of the major players whose products have (or will have) swf export or viewing capability. http://openswf.org/ provides an information center for both the programming arcana of swf and lists of third party developers – companies like Blue Pacific (http://www.blue-pac.com/), creators of software called Flash Turbine, which allows you to create dynamic Flash content based upon changing data in (for example) text or databases.
Having always been a stubborn code by hand type, I was slow to pay attention to Flash files. To flash or not to flash (paraphrasing again) was not a question I ever thought I’d be asking myself. But the reality of the situation is that in this day of 56k and cable modems and competition from a gazillion other web sites, coupled with the explosive and ever growing acceptance of Flash technology (no special plugin is necessary in the latest versions of the most popular browsers) that in order to compete in the market, you almost have to be a flasher too, however perverse that may sound at first blush. I knew I needed to learn about Flashing, and started at the Macromedia web site (http://www.macromedia.com). They have a Flash site of the day and a lot of helpful basic information about Flash4. The program is available for downloading and a 30-day trial, but beware of its learning curve and rather high intimidation factor. Flash is a powerful product indeed, and to harness that power, you have to put time and effort into it. Assuming you take the plunge and buy the product, you might be interested in the many books written about Flash. To flesh out the flashing, so to speak.
Site design being what it is today, wouldn’t you like to be a flasher too?