A List Apart


Sympathy for the Plug-in

On th’ other side up rose BELIAL, in act more graceful and humane; A fairer person lost not Heav’n; he seemd For dignity compos’d and high exploit: But all was false and hollow; though his Tongue Dropt Manna, and could make the worse appear The better reason, to perplex and dash Maturest Counsels: for his thoughts were low; To vice industrious, but to Nobler deeds Timorous and slothful: yet he pleas’d the eare, And with persuasive accent thus began.
John Milton, Paradise Lost

Please allow me to introduce myself.

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I am the cancer that has riddled the formerly healthy body of the Web.

I am the darkness that has spread forever across entire empires. Like an ocean receding, inexorable, merciless, I bring draught and decay to lush worlds and watch them dissipate. Entire planets of beauty are reduced to sand in my grasp, jungles to deserts, cradles to sepulchres. Everywhere I go, entropy follows; where I have gone, my way is the only way. Browsers everywhere have fallen by the millions before me, helpless, submissive, utterly obeisant. Your puny standards are no match for me.

Though you have called me many names, there is only one:


Foolish designers! Did you really think your pitiful HTML could stand up to my onslaught? And you – wretched coders, huddling at your desks – did you think I would abide by your specs? Bah! I wipe myself with your white papers. Thin pages? Fast download times? Here’s what I think of your pathetic download times:

[Ed. – At this point, we are interrupted by a 956K animation of clock hands revolving, accompanied by tinny archived SFX of cuckoo chirping]

And that’s just an appetizer, my bandwidth-starved friends. Why, even now, the Web is being transformed into my personal rich media delivery system. Yes, don’t you worry; within a year, every single commercial site will yield to my demands, clogging all major pipelines with gigabit after gigabit of worthless, empty, babbling “content.”

Some of you have tried to unite against me. It makes me weep, really it does, this doomed resistance of yours. So naive. So childlike.

Did you think words would stop me?

Don’t you realize that words aren’t going to defeat me?

Why, your own Jakob Nielsen says that no one reads Web pages – they merely skim the first and last sentences in every paragraph. I’m not wearing any pants. So write your angry editorials, post your flames; I’ve got a deluge of empty images heading your way, and every single person you know would rather giggle at blender frogs than read the dissertation you spent eight years writing.

And now, it amuses me to entertain your silly little questions.

Q & A

“Don’t you realize that browsers are specifically designed
to retrieve and display text? That the Web is literally
made of hypertext, not animation? That the whole purpose of
the Web is to create pages that any machine can view, with
any software, thanks to the universality of HTML?”

Ah, I love you fundamentalists. In the beginning was the word, right? You must really be torn up inside about all those newfangled freaks and perverts who’ve wrecked the Web with their GIFs and JPEGs. Well, you sure stopped them, didn’t you?

“What are you going to do when WAP makes you obsolete?”

The same thing those poor VHS people did when Beta made them obsolete.

No, really, your question is a valid one. I’ll forward it to everyone who uses HTML purely for informational purposes and has never, ever, manipulated its tags to change layout or page appearance. Hmm? What’s that? I mean, you ARE using XHTML, aren’t you? How interesting. Also interesting to me are the people who think wireless Web devices will never work with Flash but WILL work with lousy, compromised HTML pages. What makes you so sure I’m the dinosaur and you’re the mammal?

“B-b-b-but you’re just a plug-in.”

Yes, but I’m a RICH plug-in. I drive the fanciest ad banners and I entertain your kids. I jump from upscale corporate to underground sleaze without breaking a sweat. And I make everyone love me. In fact, the only time my sites don’t load faster than yours (and run better, by the way, according to all that usability and user-response and GUI testing crap) is when they’ve been bulked up by some nitwit who doesn’t know how to use me. Okay, and audio’s a problem. So what if you’ve been forced to sit through an interminable “intro” animation? That’s not my fault. I vas chust following orders.

And if I’m just a plug-in, then your brain is just a few pints of watery cells. There are people out there who don’t know whether they’re using Netscape 4.5 or IE 3.0, but they know who I am. And they love me. My penetration levels are high, high, high. Your mother dreams of penetration like mine. Don’t give me your plug-in talk.

“What about all the functionality people lose when sites
migrate from HTML to Flash? Users can’t view source code,
they can’t use search tools to parse text, and you don’t
have JavaScript so they can’t do half the things a decent
Web page lets a user do.”

I’m learning your little tricks.

I can read and send querystrings now. Didn’t know that, did you? I can target frames and windows. I can even pass variables to and from JavaScript functions!

My Mac just conked out.

Heh heh heh. Okay, the JavaScript stuff is still a little buggy. But soon… soon…

“Your scripting language is primitive, your coding
environment is cramped and restrictive, your interaction
with the browser and the OS is incredibly limited, and you
can’t even do simple geometry or variable operations
without driving a programmer into workaround hell. Why
would hundreds of millions of people choose you over a
superior alternative?”

Sorry, other Macromedia products are not allowed to ask questions at this time.

“Speaking of Macromedia, I went macromedia.com the other
day and found a great page – but I couldn’t email the URL to
anyone because the content was buried in some kind of
frameset/Flash navigational mess.”

Well, I suppose they could create a button that says “Mail this location to a friend” and which then generates a nice string variable for the URL with a suffix tacked on specifying the exact breakpoint, so that anyone who clicks it will send the breakpoint info as a querystring to the Flash movie receiving it. THEN people could email Flash- internal URLs to each other. But maybe those Macromedia folks are too busy over there to bother coding a site that makes their product look good.

“Are you deliberately subverting HTML? Do you really think
you can replace it altogether?”

Already have, on some sites. (Hint: rhymes with “venerator.”) But don’t worry. I shall always permit HTML to continue its miserable existence. After all, someone needs to hold my meta tags and keyword data and embedded URL info. (Pathetic search engines and their imbecilic ’bots!) And someone needs to embed my movies. And pick a nice background color for me. And fetch my coffee. And shine my shoes. Yes, there will always be room for HTML.

“You’ll never get away with this.”

Won’t I, though?

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