April 04, 2004

Don't use Flash to display your art

Posted by shonk at 11:20 PM in Art | TrackBack

Does anybody else get really annoyed by Flash galleries? Now, I’m not talking about flash intros, which I think we can all safely agree are annoying. Rather, I’m talking about making photo galleries in Flash. For example, the “found type gallery” over at Typophile (which is itself an excellent site). Now, I loved looking through the gallery and there were a couple of pictures in there that I thought were really excellent. Unfortunately, since the gallery is in Flash, I can’t directly link you to the pictures I especially liked; I can only say “you should really check out the pictures from Calgary and from Vandalia, Illinois”. Another example would be the various galleries over at [KUNSTCAMERA], many of which are truly excellent. Again, though, I can only say “check out the third picture in the gallery called ep03.02” (to choose just one example), rather than providing a direct link. In my mind, this is a bad thing.

I know when I’m reading a weblog or some other site and someone says “this picture is really cool” and then provides a link, more often than not I’ll click the link and, if I like what I see, I’ll check out the rest of the content at that site (the same, of course, goes for other types of content). On the other hand, if someone says “this gallery is really cool”, odds are I’m going to see less of the content at the linked site. Why? Well, there are several reasons.

First of all, psychologically, following a link to an entire gallery implies a sort of commitment to view that entire gallery, or at least a significant portion thereof, whereas clicking a link to an image implies a much smaller commitment. All other things being equal, I’m going to follow the link that’s going to require a smaller time commitment.

Second, if I do follow a link to a gallery, there’s a pretty good chance that none of the first 5 pictures in that gallery is the one that the the link was supposed to highlight. In fact, it’s pretty likely that those first 5 pictures are going to be very different than the one the person making the link really wanted me to see. And the simple fact of the matter is this: if I follow a link to a gallery and the first few images don’t grab my attention, I’m probably hitting the back button.

Finally, even if I do click the link and make it through enough of the gallery to see the image in question, I’ve already probably devoted 5 or 10 minutes to that site. Unless I’m really blown away by what I see, I’m probably going to say to myself “okay, that was cool…let’s see what’s going on at mock savvy”.

My point is this: I suspect most of the traffic at sites like Typophile and [KUNSTCAMERA] is driven by links from weblogs and other dynamic sites around the web. So they’re really doing themselves a disservice by making it less likely that people seeing those links will actually view their content. I understand that there are certain advantages to using Flash for galleries: you can’t right-click-Save-Target-As so “stealing” images is harder, Flash allows “pixel-perfect” manipulation of the content, which allows better integration into navigation elements, etc., but I think those benefits are outweighed by the cost of lower traffic and, therefore, lower visibility. And I haven’t even mentioned the number one drawback with Flash: in many cases, all the download time is upfront, so the viewer must wait through, say, a 2.5M download at the beginning rather than waiting for each 100K image to load when the user clicks “Next”, which means right off the bat you’ve excluded all but the most dedicated of dial-up users.

Please don’t get the impression from this that either Typophile or [KUNSTCAMERA] is a bad site; I single them out because both are excellent sites, but the tools they’re using are frustrating and even counter-productive to enhancing the experience of the reader (this reader, anyway). Which I think is a shame.


Hey Shonk,

What you are complaining about is not a limitation of Flash but a problem with the implementation of these galleries.

If you make an Html site those linking issues are pretty much automatically taken care of, but with Flash you would need to add some custome code to handle what you describe. Nevertheless it is possible.

Posted by: josh at December 1, 2004 05:19 PM