The world wide web is coming of age. We are sharing more, doing more. You would be surprised, today, to find someone (in the western world) who hasn’t experienced, “surfing the web.” Last year we saw the consolidation of a movement that has been steadily building throughout the past decade. Developers and designers have been keen to use web creation tools that offer a rich experience for the visitor but don’t sacrifice flexibility and universal standards to achieve this.
The campaign has focussed on tools such as Flash. Even if you don’t recognise the name, you’ll certainly have felt its effects. When Adobe’s Flash came to prominence in the early noughties there was no other way to add exciting animation or create unconventional layout in web design, so naturally eager creatives flocked to it. Some amazing work was created but sadly in the rush to use the tool visitors were subjected to bloated designs that tormented with an almost endlessly spinning wheel that proudly announced the page was ‘loading’ – perhaps by finally stopping spinning it reminded us that we were still in reality. This contributed to its downfall as visitors grew tired of queuing to enter a site but more worrying was the lack of control available over the source code. With the rise of Flash the web was being dominated by a tool that only its creators had full access to and if the visitor chose not to install the plug-in then they would be shunned. This closed system surely wasn’t what we imagined for the world wide web, was it?
In 2011, smartphone sales grew by 63% during the year and shipments of media tablets such as the iPad are already equivalent to 18% of the PC market. It is the emergence of the so-called mobile web with its open-source standards on handheld devices that has proven to be the final nail in Flash’s coffin. Device and browser manufacturers have finally worked together to push common technologies and move towards universal media formats. In November 2011 Adobe announced it was effectively ending support for its tool by focusing on the community-maintained platform, HTML5. HTML5 is a framework for creating websites with rich media such as animation, video and audio and is overseen by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) but any person can contribute to its development. The end of Flash alludes to a future where closed systems strictly controlled by a single company will no longer dominate in the creation of the web. This can only be a good thing because it empowers people to invent whatever they can dream of, not what a company allows them.
These rich experiences enable the freedom to share our lives in ever more detailed ways online but how will this affect society going forward? To pay for these advances you could argue we have signed away our right to privacy in those user agreements that hardly anyone can claim to have read. The real business of companies such as Facebook and Google is to gather an ever increasing number of users they can package into demographics to sell for advertising. It’s no surprise that the hottest property of the decade in Silicon Valley has been mathematicians and scientists with their knowledge of data analysis. Offering products that people need to use strengthens their potential sales base. However, in the coming years new companies will emerge that will dethrone these seemingly unstoppable behemoths. Who today remembers Friendster or Netscape? Come to think of it do you remember all those annoying, “please wait while this page loads,” messages of the noughties? Thought not, good bye Flash.