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A Flashy Expierence

article by: David Zikakis

There are many technologies on the web today that we have all heard about, but have very little understanding of what they are and how they can be applicable to our web-based goals. Macromedia's Flash is one of those.

So what is Flash? you ask. Good question, Macromedia describes it in the following way: "Flash is the key to designing and delivering low-bandwidth animations, presentations, and Web sites. It offers scripting capabilities and server-side connectivity for creating engaging applications, Web interfaces, and training courses." A tidy response, but I find it does little to build an understanding of its capabilities and how they can be used to your advantage.

Lets begin by breaking Flash's capabilities down into various sections: Graphics, Animation, Sound and Interactivity. All of these can be used to deliver your message efficiently and effectively; the whole point in having a web page in the first place! Whether you are using your web page to sell something, provide information or a service, or just to increase awareness about your company or organization, the message is always received better if your site delivers an 'experience' rather than just content. Providing an experience is what Flash does best.

Every web site needs graphics, without them the web would be a rather boring place. Flash allows you to deliver vector graphics in addition to regular bitmapped graphics. This means you can have very clean, scalable graphics on your page while using very little bandwidth, thus increasing the speed at which your page will load.

The graphics capabilities of Flash are very nice in themselves, but they become much more interesting when you add animation. Animation adds a new dimension to your site's design. Strategically animating parts of your site can capture the viewer's attention and give critical information a better chance of being noticed and remembered.

Flash is great for adding sound to your site, from full theme music to voice-overs and small audible cues. Sound is something that is usually lacking from non-Flash enabled sites, and it is usually the first thing you notice when you look at a Flash site. It allows you to fill the sensory void that once existed on the web. Engaging sounds can make all the difference between a mediocre site and an award-winner. Consider the possibilities of sound to increase your viewer's interest in what you have to communicate.

Interactivity is where it all comes together. Using graphics, animation and sound in an effective user interface gives you the perfect web site. A web page that traditionally needed multiple pages to communicate all it had to offer can now be packed into one continuous interactive presentation. The result is a smooth, enjoyable and informative experience for the viewer of your page. Which translates to increased sales, awareness or any other objective you may have for your web presence.

This level of interactivity is increased when you combine Flash with server-side scripting. Allowing the Flash elements in your page to access databases and other external data. Suppose you want to create an online ordering system, traditionally the user would have to navigate through multiple screens: checking boxes, entering text, selecting items, the list goes on. Finally they reach the "submit" screen and they realize they entered something incorrectly at the beginning. What a pain! With Flash you can develop a single-screen system that updates dynamically while the user enters information. In this way the user can know how the information they enter effects other information on the page like total cost for example.

With all of Flash's capabilities, it's no wonder companies and organizations alike are using Flash content to meet their web goals. Getting online? Updating your site? Consider how Flash can help you meet your web-based goals, by providing a better experience to your users.

David is a senior web developer and flash specialist with Inter Kingston Web Design