I’ve found a real world example of how Flash can be misused from a usability perspective. I received a flash presentation of a document I have on a web site with the suggestion that I replace the document with the presentation. The presentation only showed one paragraph at a time and even a single paragraph took its sweet time to load. I couldn’t scroll down or navigate to anything but the next paragraph. Basically, it limited my ability to get at the information in the document.
Flash is great for an eye-catching presentation that will only be seen once but after that, it is an annoying waste of time. If a news site were to create a flash intro for their main page, it would be incredibly frustrating to have to wait for the flash movie to load every time you went to the site to view the daily news. The majority of the time I’m using the web, I’m after information, not entertainment and text suits me just fine.
Some may argue that it was the design of the presentation that made it unusable and I agree to a point. It was a bad design and could have been improved, but I defy a flash developer to create a presentation that can load text faster than a simple HTML page. Let me emphasize that I am not against using flash for entertainment purposes because I think that is an ideal application, but for written text it is a miserable substitute for plain HTML.
If I decided to make the switch, I would guess that the first time someone saw it they would probably be impressed by the snazzy display. If they came back later to refer to something in the middle of the document though, it would be very tedious to have to wait for the presentation to load and trudge through each paragraph until they found the one they wanted. In contrast, if it were text, the first time they saw it, there would be nothing special about it, but they would have the exact same amount of information. Later on they could return to the document, scroll down to the paragraph they wanted and view it quickly and efficiently.
If you have a web site where you expect people to visit once and never again, then maybe you’ll want to have a flash introduction, but if you want return visitors, the presentation will get old fast. I prefer efficiency over aesthetics and this may be a point where my priorities begin to diverge from the mainstream user. Give me a lean site with useful information and I’m content. I love using a site that I can view without images. I like to be able to view it with Lynx without any degradation of information.
If you create a site with that in mind, it will be much easier for those with disabilities to view it. This may be to your advantage later on since it’s possible that having an inaccessible site will be a punishable offense . The case has to do with sites that provide a service to the public and aren’t accessible (like a movie theatre that isn’t wheelchair accessible). I don’t know what the results will be, but as more and more elderly people start using the web it, they’ll appreciate web sites that they can use despite their disabilities.