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By Joshua Belhumeur

Gone in a Flash

With all the…we’ll just call them “current events”…going on you may have missed that Adobe officially dropped Flash this year. I would be remiss if I didn’t give it a proper sendoff.

Flash paved our path and paid our bills at BRINK for a decade. We got a couple of Webby nominations because of our Flash work. We built crazy f*cking websites for movies (Spun, Killer Inside Me) and rock stars (Velvet Revolver, Andrew Gold). I personally built a Flash-based giving app for PayPal that helped a young candidate named Barack Obama raise money on this thing all the kids were into called “social media” for the first time in history.

Flash was a media and animation software that had its own programming language called ActionScript that resembled Java. Once you built apps in Flash, you could export them and embed them on web pages and because just about every computer on the planet had Flash Player installed, just about everyone could enjoy those websites and apps.

It didn’t have to be restrained by the limitations of HTML. It removed shackles from designers. You could put anything anywhere on the screen; a truly blank canvas to push pixels around and make them move in and out, up and down and around. It could talk to servers in the background so you could build complex databases and processes under the hood. And you could do all of this at a more rapid pace of development.

Flash was beautiful but it was flawed. It was a resource hog and it was proprietary, meaning there was no open standard, meaning you started getting competitors like Microsoft Silverlight creating an unhealthy ecosystem of incompatibility instead of everyone playing nice and talking to one another like a good web should.

The death blow to Flash was when Steve Jobs stood on a stage in San Francisco 14 years ago this month and announced a “magical” new device called the iPhone. That, and the iPad that followed, would not support Flash and now the fastest growing segment of web browsers would not be able to see those Flash sites anymore. We’d start using terms like “responsive web” to describe building sites and apps that work across all devices requiring an open standard to work. Back to HTML we would go. Meanwhile Flash was left to slowly bleed out until this moment when they could pull the plug without anyone noticing.

The good news is HTML evolved to keep up. HTML5 was released and javascript (which was compatible with the open web) proved to effectively replicate the functionality of Flash as talented developers started creating robust frameworks with it.

Still, we lost something along the way. The decline of Flash coincided with the rise of our new corporate web. The shackles were put back on. What was once a great frontier is now more like a suburban stripmall. We have the features but we don’t have that vibe, that je ne sais quoi, that soul the old web once had.

So long Flash. You are gone but not forgotten.

By Joshua Belhumeur