The Man in Blue

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Flash is in the pan

It’s official, Flash is dead.

I never quite understood the visceral hatred that Flash inspired in some people. Flash doesn’t make bad experiences, people make bad experiences. But still, there’s no denying that it has always battled a highly tarnished reputation.

I was a bit of a latecomer to Flash creation. Sure, I’d inflicted cheesily tweened website intros onto some¬†unfortunate visitors of websites in 2001; but for the most part my interests lay in accessible, semantic markup and Web Standards.

The work of people like Flight404 (now defunct), Yugop (now defunct), and PrayStation (now defunct) was hugely inspirational to me. (The fact that they’re all now defunct gives you an idea of the struggles that Flash has faced over the years.) I tried to emulate their ethos of creative coding as much as I could using the nascent DOM and JavaScript technologies that emerged between 2000 – 2010. Experiments like Bunny Hunt and JS-909 were my attempts to bring some of that experimental Flash coding to the Web Standards world; although they certainly weren’t anywhere near as slick.

As my experiments evolved I kept butting my head up against the limits of native browsers, and in 2009 – frustrated with lacklustre results in-browser – I took my first real stab at ActionScript, hoping it would be the panacea to my framerate performance woes. Boy, was it a breath of fresh air. Instead of battling against browser quirks and lack of features, I got a fully featured, consistent environment that actually ran smooth animation. Visible Tweets was my first Flash application and I took the opportunity to push its animation engine to the limits with some pretty intricate type-based motion. To this day, Visible Tweets still garners a fair bit of traffic and at one stage was responsible for over $30,000 in annual side income through customisations and branded versions.

My obsession with smooth framerates even led me to do some crude benchmarking that (at the time) showed off Flash’s superiority.

Since then, native browsers have come in leaps and bounds, improving their performance by an order of magnitude. But even as graphics performance of native browser technologies like Canvas and SVG improved, Flash still had cutting edge technologies like websockets and audio/video playback. Although I chose to use Canvas to render the waveforms on Definitive Daft Punk, all the audio analysis still had to be run through Flash because the Web Audio API didn’t exist back then.

Now browsers have audio. They have video. They even have WebGL and VR. And all those technologies work on mobile. The writing’s been on the wall for Flash for a while. Yet still, I’m sad to see it go. It was a brilliant crucible of creativity. A forge for many emerging artists in the field of creative coding, and many of the concepts from Flash and ActionScript were the proving grounds for their modern browser equivalents.

I’ll be looking back fondly on those years, rather than spitting on Flash’s grave. And as we see the last of the great browser plugins disappear* I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the creative culture that it nurtured.

*RealPlayer 4eva!