The needs of the haters

Last week at NAB there was big news about Flash being increasingly adopted at the hardware level by television manufacturers (see press release, Techmeme).

There wasn’t much new information beyond what most of us knew back in January, but it got a lot of fresh exposure in the mainstream techblogs. This produced a noticeable trend-change in comments at venues like CNET and Ars Technica.

Let me synopsize, rephrase some of them here, to give a flavor: “Oh great, now we’ll see all those annoying Flash banner ads over television shows just like we get to see on so many websites?”… “Well, the VIDEO tag in HTML 5 is on the way, and then there will be no difficulties with plugins as an excuse for using Adobe’s semi-proprietary crap-ware”… “GREAT! Now in addition to our PC’s, Adobe can crash our televisions”… “I can understand why some companies battle to keep Adobe off their devices – it is a trojan horse of functionality that can dominate/trump the device OS”… “Oh, great! Now they’ll be tracking our viewing habits with Flash cookies and sending targeted ads to our TVs”… “If I owned a T.V. I would not want to have Flash’s annoying ads on it”… “I’d be ok with 100% cpu if they could guarantee that it wouldn’t crash the TV like it does my browsers”… “Why not make the UI AJAX rather than flash? It’ll take 10% of the cpu”… “Why would any electronics manufacturer want to inflict Flash on their (soon-to-be-former) customers?”… “Oh good. I’ve always wanted my TV to drop frames and be bad at scaling video”… “How did Internet video streaming go so wrong?”… “I despise Flash. My first thought reading this was that its an attempt to control what we watch and how we watch it”… “Open standards is about letting technology progress for the benefit of the whole society, at minimal cost, instead of being hijacked and bottlenecked by a few capitalists so they can collect rent-seeking profits”… “I wonder what the environmental impact/energy cost of flash has been”… … “Can we please get SVG, SMIL, JavaScript, HTML5 VIDEO, etc. working together so that we can kill stupid crap like Flash already?”

There was similar reflexive pushback in comments to a blogpost of mine last week. This is what really started me wondering about the phenomenon.

The particulars of the attacks aren’t new… what struck me in the pseudonymous comments was the sudden strength in volume and emotional tone. In these forums there was little discussion of the news and its implications, but a significant amount of reflexive pushback against Flash itself.

The nature of the complaints shows no nexus — the most common point seemed to be “I don’t like ads”, which was quite peripheral to the discussion. People seemed to be grabbing whatever argument was handy, tossing it at the wall, seeing if it would stick.

The core driver seemed to be diverse sentiment against Flash’s increasing usefulness, rather than any particular addressable issue. My takeaway is that they’re seeking rationalizations for a pre-existing prejudice, and are increasingly concerned that those prejudices are becoming irrelevant in the world at large.

It is a stressful time for many “Flash haters”. The VIDEO tag has sparked interest, yet no one is realistically addressing the obvious questions about cross-browser deployment. Meanwhile Flash is increasingly acknowledged as the way to unite diverse browser brands, and is making significant progress on cross-device deployment across laptops, mobile, television, and embedded displays. Reality is crashing in on the rhetoric. Past challenges were not addressed, while future challenges are increasing. When reasonable questions cannot be answered, or even safely acknowledged, then ridicule is one of the few tactics left.

What to do? Well, some of the later comments at Ars Technica were more reality-based, although some of them verged into vulgar abuse. We can try reason; we can try fighting fire with fire.

But when the complaints are based less on reason than on prejudice, reasonable replies usually don’t take root, instead just spurring another collection of rationalizations. And calling the namecallers names — responding to intolerance with intolerance — is usually not a very enjoyable way to live.

My suggestion? For each of us individually to investigate the facts, evaluate the trends, and (most likely) see the haters as merely acting like frustrated deadenders. Emotional, but without hope. History and future-history both seem to be against them. They lash out.

If such commenters present a legit new point we still need to recognize it and respond to it… if there’s a newbie who heard “Flash isn’t searchable and isn’t accessible” we can still try in good faith to help them out… but I think we need to accept that there’s a minority who will complain in dysfunctional ways no matter what.

A guiding light, a silver lining: Anyone who fights for a technology position, cares about technology. They may currently have incorrect info or not clearly disclose their personal proprietary concerns, but they care. That’s something we have in common.

The long goal is in increasing the range of personal expression for all humans — to remove the barriers to people communicating their own ideas. Web-publishing is a part of that, and the greater engagement provided by rich-media and interactivity is a part of that goal too. If someone else is on that path, they are a potential ally — even if they’re currently throwing rocks from behind an online moniker.

Can I follow my own advice? Probably not, I still get frustrated with the tactics of prejudice! But there’s always the possibility of hope, potential futures in which they open up… that’s one thing I try to keep remembering when reading such people.

Flash Haters seem to be in a rather desperate position right now. They might try to hurt you, but if you can afford them some compassion and understanding (while not letting them eat your time 😉 , then that might be the best response in the long term, thanks.

7 Responses to The needs of the haters

  1. Allen Varney says:

    “The core driver seemed to be diverse sentiment against Flash’s increasing usefulness, rather than any particular addressable issue.” This, after you quote specific complaints about stability, performance, privacy, pop-ups, and proprietary software. These complaints might somehow not count as “addressable,” but surely they’re not incomprehensible?
    [jd sez: As I said, those were miscellaneous arguments of convenience, with the sole apparent commonality being “I don’t like Flash” lying unexplained beneath.]

  2. John Dowdell says:

    Speaking of which, I hadn’t seen this rant of Chris Pirillo when it appeared last week… my comment is in a moderation queue, so let me keep a copy here:

    Sorry I didn’t see this the week it appeared. It should be easy to fix.
    As John Bland noted above, if the problem only occurs on one page, then check that page.
    (For instance, Chris, your page here calls out to over 30 external tracking domains making over 200 HTTP requests and downloading a megabyte of media and JavaScript — the third-party JavaScript you’re loading has slowed my Firefox to a crawl. Content choices have consequences!)
    But if you’re seeing a general problem with Adobe Flash Player, then use the uninstaller on the website to clean out that damaged version, and do a fresh install — gets Flash itself back to a known, predictable state.
    It should be easy to have successful, peaceful experiences like other people do.
    jd/adobe

    (My apologies… someone tipped me to this Pirillo rant last week, but I apparently lost it during a Mac crash. Thanks to John C Bland and others for attempting to help in the comments. I hope Chris gets past his problems.)

  3. John Dowdell says:

    Another example… comments section on Hacker News on a positive experience Seth Call had with the new Text Layout Framework. Lots of reasonable people there, but a few with nothing more in common than their disapproval.

  4. John Dowdell says:

    On similar “politics of exclusion”, although it doesn’t mention Flash, Mikeal Rogers of Mozilla has one of the best posts I’ve read on the Ruby cheesecake problem:

    “In the early days Rails was promoted by DHH [David Heinemeier Hansson, Rails principal] in what, at the time, sounded like a great strategy: Attack dominant technologies (Java) and piss people off that use them long enough to check out your stuff. This strategy generated huge buzz and lead to one of the fastest adoptions of a new technology I’ve ever seen…
    “But the biggest problem with DHH’s strategy was that it was hostile and it intentionally excluded a large number of people who were invested in the old technology and couldn’t get over being pissed off at DHH. The first thing DHH will say is ‘well, we don’t want or care about those people’, and he’s right, Rails doesn’t need those people. But when you, as the leader of a project, are hostile and partake in action that intentionally excludes people, regardless of who those people are, it creates an environment where others see no need to alter their behavior not to exclude people….
    “In order to lead an inclusive community you have to encourage participation and allow everyone to be individuals. If you treat everyone with respect, no matter who they are and no matter what they do, others will conduct themselves the same way. It’s always easier to respond to hostility with hostility but all you’re doing is creating an environment where hostility is the norm and it’s alright to exclude people.”

  5. Tristan says:

    [jd sez: This got marked as spam while I was on vacation. I’m not sure if “Tristan” is Tristan Nitot of Mozilla or not (the need for anonymity always raises questions). The sites you visit impose attention requests for their content, and I’m not able to get between you and the sites you visit. Personally, I’ve used a Flashblocking extension for years, but my Mac browsers still underperform my Win/Lin browsers.]
    Adobe flash should not be able to force people to continually watch loop adverts, you have enabled advertisers to switch off the stop playing ability of flash, this action enables advertisers to steal my cpu power with contless adverts continually looping when browsing the web.
    The number of times flash has made my laptop crawl to a halt because I can’t stop flash running in tabbed windows im not even looking at is getting more frequent and is damm right inexcusable.
    advertisers should never have this power over people browsing the web and you are to blame.
    if you have any decency you should re-enable the ability of the end user to stop flash in its tracks if a user wants to.
    im not the only person who thinks this is an invasion of my rights and theft of my cpu time.
    you will be seeing a backlash.

  6. Martin says:

    My concern is that I am hearing more of the hatred each week from technology journalists, while they bligthly offer HTML 5 as the alternative, !@*? huh? Ignorance is an easy lowest common denomiator but I do get the feeling there is a concerted effort to end Flash’s dominance as a feature-rich technology.
    [jd sez: I understand your concern. But truth does out over time, so the trend’s our friend. 😉 ]

  7. Some Flash Hater says:

    I hate it when flash stresses my cpu playing videos fullscreen (which a quicktime player etc wouldn’t do).
    I hate it when it steals keyboard focus so I can’t switch to elements outside the flash rectangle when I press tab.
    I hate it when flash fails to register clicks correctly which happens very frequently when using Firefox/Mac OS X.
    I hate it when Flash presents its weird badly integrated user interface elements to me.
    I hate it when it prevents browsers from scrolling smoothly a web page.
    I hate it when it flickers when moving windows over its rectangle.
    I hate it when it takes far too long to initialize a fullscreen view (again, Mac specific).
    I hate it when Flash prevents me from taking a look at the source code of a page since it’s made in flash.
    I hate its crumbled font drawing.
    I hate it that Flash will never integrate correctly into a true web page since it’s some weird parallel world next to html.
    I love the empty rectangle signifying blocked Flash content when using NoScript.
    In short: I sincerely hate Flash, and I would like it to disappear 😀
    [jd sez: Well, I can sorta understand, because I wouldn’t mind seeing acrimonious anonymous whinges on year-old blogposts disappear, myself. But assuming you’re *sincerely* curious about some of these: in-browser video is harder than desktop video, even ignoring QT’s proprietary acceleration APIs; we’ve been begging browser vendors for more rational keyboard-focus controls for years; I haven’t heard a match to your “no clicks” symptom; flickers/scrolling will vary with config; “View Source” is available at the Flash author’s discretion (and most HTML/JS/CSS is unreadable these days); your font problems don’t seem to acknowledge Flash offers THE BEST TYPOGRAPHY, and in 99% of the world’s browsers too; I agree that browser vendors would do developers & public more favors by improving browser integration rather than making their own weird stacks. Each moment is precious; spend it wisely.]