Is it time for news websites to stop using Flash?

Like many tech-geek online journalists, I’ve been spending more time with my iPhone in recent months. I use the phone’s Web browser to update my various sites from wherever I am on the road, or even around the house.

And I’m not the only person using Apple’s mobile devices who’s reading my various websites. The percentage of iPhone, iPod and iPad users reading my sites now stands just a hair under five percent, but it’s growing swiftly – up from just over one percent at the beginning of 2010.

So it’s as both a consumer and a publisher that I’ve been following the ongoing battle between Apple and Adobe over the latter’s Flash technology. Journalism educators should be watching this conflict, too, as they need to be making decisions today about what technology their students will need to be able to use in 2011 and years ahead. Today, I’m offering a collection of links for OJR readers who want to get up to speed on this controversy.

Apple’s mobile devices do not display Flash content and won’t be in the future, for reasons Apple’s Steve Jobs laid out in his famous open letter last month. As an iPhone user, that’s led me away from websites that rely on Flash and toward other, more mobile-friendly alternatives.

I’m finding myself doing the same even when I am using my laptop. Ten years ago, I adored Flash photo galleries. Today, watching stuff move on my computer screen isn’t enough to excite me anymore. I prefer user interfaces that allow me to skim and scroll through information quickly, lingering on that which I find interesting and moving swiftly past the rest.

I don’t like having to click and click and click to see something. Nor do I like having to wait for large presentations to load, or annoying transitions instead of instant display when I do have to click. (My wife late last year expressed frustration with Flash-driven websites more eloquently than I could, so – as I often do in life – I defer to her for further argument.)

My experience as a consumer is leading me away from using Flash as a publisher. Is that the case for other publishers? I don’t know. But I think that journalism educators would be smart to start thinking about alternatives to Flash-based presentations when working with students who are trying to find the best form for their online storytelling.

Apple and other platform developers are pushing HTML 5 as an alternative to Flash for displaying motion on webpages. Streaming Media and Wired offer some interesting background suggesting why Adobe’s not been able to convince companies such as Apple to embrace Flash on mobile devices.

But what is HTML 5 and how can it do what Flash has done so long? Roughly Drafted offers a great timeline for the development of HTML 5, tracing it back to the early days of hypertext markup.

Online journalism’s go-to source for Flash training long has been Mindy McAdams, so it’s no surprise that she’s stayed on top of this issue. She defends the continued use of Flash in journalism while offering a sound overview of all that HTML 5 can do. And in a follow-up post, she goes into greater detail about the use of HTML 5’s “canvas” tag, which provides the Flash alternative that many developers are beginning to explore.

Please take a look at these links. Even if Flash survives and thrives as a publishing tool into the 2010s, its use will be influenced by the development of HTML 5, potentially narrowing and sharpening what constitutes the “best use” of Flash.

The controversy over Flash, at the very least, provides journalism educators a teaching moment in which to reinforce the important message that no publishing technology is eternal, and that journalists must be prepared to either train themselves, or seek training, on new publishing tools and techniques throughout their careers.

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at


  1. Flash not only doesn’t work on the latest Apple technologies, it also slows down old older computers, and is often incompatible with browsers configured for old computers. This is particularly problematic for poor and old people, who seem likely to be less-able or -inclined, respectively, to upgrade to newer, better technology.

  2. says:

    I think most search engine are not friend with flash,We should minimize the use of flash in our website.