Not very Flash

Thoughts on my first website*

I built my first website in the year 2000. It was built in Flash, naturally. I had tried building a site in HTML, painstakingly flipping between Dreamweaver’s WYSIWYG view and my copy of Netscape 4. There appeared to be little correlation between the two. It was so hard! This HTML stuff would never catch on.

In Flash you effectively drew yourself a website. At last, I was webdesigner! I set about crafting an awesome portfolio site that would undoubtedly showcase my work for the rest of my career.

The website was blue and the font was Arial, inexplicably all in lower case. Like most Flash sites of the period it eschewed all usability standards, contained no hard text and opened in a pop-up window. One in the eye for you Jakob Nielsen, with your yellow site for boring people! The piece de resistance was the opening animation that took 3 minutes to load and equally long to enjoy. This featured a series of flying screen grabs of my degree projects set to a repeating loop from a dance track.

There was an innovative take on navigation, an attempt at a 3D dice (perhaps inviting potential clients to take a chance on me?). A moving arrow pointed out the navigation, in case anyone hadn’t clocked quite how dreadful it was.

Really terrible Flash website Cutting edge animation! Very proud at the time, not really rocking the party today

In this shiny new world of HTML5, it’s hard not to feel a little sad and nostalgic about Flash. At the time it felt so exciting and full of possibility.

Flash started its life as an animation package and joined the web in 1996. The technology was adopted by market leaders like MSN and Disney, it grew in popularity and spawned a derth of interactive web pages and games. It was bought by software giant Adobe in 2005. I remember this as the year I started designing all Web 2.0, we got a broadband connection and web video suddenly exploded. YouTube appeared, making it possible to upload and share video online and Flash became integral for enabling multimedia across the web.

It was getting all very exciting for Flash. Then in 2007, Apple released the iPhone.

The story goes that Adobe was in talks with Apple to make Flash work on the iPhone but it just didn’t cut it on a mobile processor. YouTube made the decision to offer up access to its videos in a format optimised for mobile phones, bypassing the need for Flash. The final nail in the coffin was Steve Job’s famous memo, Thoughts On Flash which denounced Flash, highlighting its many failings.

* The reason I’m getting all nostalgic about Flash is because of an email from 123-reg, inviting web designers to take part in a shared reminise about My 1st Website. And they’ve got a rather tasty MacBook Pro up for grabs…(not that I’m cheap date on the tech front).

I’m glad something’s prompted a rummage through my year 2000 CD archive – it’s nice to be reminded of how far I’ve come since my shabby beginnings at age 23. These days I would start by downloading a free HTML boilerplate and hit the ground running. Back then it was all so new, exciting and painfully homemade. Creating something in your bedroom that was suddenly visible to everyone online seemed like a revelation, your own small place on a world stage.

Keyframe animation did make me feel pretty flash. I hope the kids out there today get as excited about building their first site, despite never knowing the joy of a shape tween.

I'm a freelance UI/UX Designer from London.

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