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:

Flash.

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#section2

“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.#section3

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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