Adobe Flash Player was a familiar sight in the early 2000s. Most browser games used it, many interactive features on company websites used it. But it was slow. And it was being outpaced by better engines.
It’s been a while since that announcement – what’s happened since?
What Did Flash Actually Do?
Flash was one of a host of plugins that allowed users to view ‘rich’ content. Everything from Flash games to autoplay audio to vector graphics to dynamic menus… if the website had visuals besides plaintext on it, there was a solid chance Flash was used somewhere. Adobe Flash Player sorted to the front of the pack because it was free, and played well with the browsers that supported it. It allowed a whole new world of interactive content. Since most browsers had a version of Flash, most websites were able to use Flash content, with the notable exception of Apple products. Even then, Safari could view it.
Flash did a lot of things, but they were all things that could be done better if web developers had better tools. HTML5 was released in 2014 and was extremely lightweight compared to Flash. It used web browsers to its advantage, by using a tagging system that the browser (which was updated for the new tech) could interpret. Since less data needed to be shared over the user’s internet connection, the content loaded faster – all the browser needed was those tags.
There were issues with this, in the early days of HTML5, different browsers could interpret the same tag differently, and sometimes older versions couldn’t interpret a new tag at all, but it was so much easier to work with and so much faster that minor issues were overlooked. Another bonus was less malware!
HTML5 and WebAssembly both step in to take some of the weight off of Flash after it’s first major security event, and people notice that loading times have gone down. Apple’s departure from Flash also slashed it’s popularity, and Flash starts it’s downhill decline.
Adobe announced it was planning for Flash’s End-Of-Life a whole three years before the end-date to give developers time to remove it. Still, for older sites that couldn’t switch, an open-source project called ‘Ruffle’ hopes to fill the gaps and keep Flash games running a bit longer. Ruffle behaves a lot like Flash, but it’s third-party. The website itself has to support Ruffle’s use, so if all the Flash stuff was abandoned because the website itself was abandoned, Ruffle isn’t going to be much help. At least there is an option, though, as limited as it may be.
Ironically, Flash was so deeply embedded in the fabric of the internet that fake Flash updates are still getting people. Remember, if a pop-up says you should update something on your device, whether it’s Minecraft or Excel, you should always go to the home site and verify it there. It’s really easy to copy an application’s layout nowadays!
Multiple decades’ worth of flash games and websites from the 2000s are now irrevocably broken. Sure, a lot of it was just games many made more for promotional or revenue-generating reasons than art, but even the worst Flash game has archival value. Exploring the history of a given TV show, for example, often comes with looking at what online content was available for that show. The death of Flash means a ton of Disney properties no longer have games that kids can access. Older shows like Victorious and iCarly have games that only live on in screenshots. Were the games good? Did they control well? Did Disney actually put any effort in once it became clear a show was a success? All the answers to those questions can now only be pulled from Youtube videos and interviews!
The same goes for Flash-based web shows. Homestar Runner is infamous as it’s one of the earliest examples of the concept, and now it’s unplayable at it’s source site. Youtube videos and browser plugins are currently the only way to access it. How many other projects died because nobody knew they were out there? The Flash purge erased a ton of internet history in a long, slow slide to the death. What’s left is mostly broken pages and forgotten wastelands of unplayable content.