If you’ve been reading the techblogs this week, you may be wondering “Is this the death of Flash?” There’s lots of commentary out there, and no matter how ill-founded, we’ll all likely end up in conversations with less-clued-in coworkers or friends asking, “Hey, I heard that *this* will finally be the death of Flash!” Fun, huh?
If so, then relax. It’s all going to get worse.
There are more corporate conferences coming up in the next few weeks, and a browser release or two. These are easy stories for a PR staff to get placed in newsblogs. We’re only at the beginning of a hype cycle. There’s more to come.
In a way, it’s similar to the blogosphere buzz cycle around Silverlight a few years ago. Back then it was tough to swallow comments like “makes Flex look like a toy”, “the execution of Adobe”, “the Web was rebooted today” and the like.
But it’s easier to deal with such high-level assertions once you examine the low-level basics. The WhatWG is a set of browser vendors who are drafting a new version of Hypertext Markup Language, and much of the controversy is around whether various vendor RIA specifications fit. One tipoff is that core questions — handling the IE-using majority, “plugins are good when they’re Google’s”, what VIDEO tag will actually do, “what innovation’s in imitation?”, many more — are actively being ignored. The only response is namecalling.
This is different than the Silverlight dynamic. Microsoft staff and fans actually addressed reasonable questions. Their weblogs were open to other viewpoints. Dissent was not ridiculed.
Further, these questions today are coming from the grassroots. Top-level bloggers may be touched for a good story, but their commenters raise a whole series of reasonable questions. And they get — no answers. That pressure for truth and openness will not decrease.
Here, let me pull some of the comments which struck me from a recent oreilly.com transcript of a Google presentation. (I’m leaving out names because I’m interested in the ideas, but if you commented there and want your words removed from here, then please let me know, thanks.) It’s just one blogpost’s comments among the many, but shows the disconnect between the suits and the street:
“Most companies want to reach the widest audience possible and will likely continue to ask for IE6 support for another 2 to 3 years. So we are looking at another 5 to 7 years before IE7 can be ignored and working with whatever basic HTML5 support is available in IE8.”
“The Google mantra about the web vs desktop is b******t. Do an objective comparison between (canvas or svg) vs ((flash or silverlight) or desktop) and you’ll quickly note the differences. We don’t need an academic paper or more buzz.”
“There’s no standard for video codecs, meaning each browser vendor will decide on what codecs to support if any. Which means in order for the video tag to work, the web developer will have to supply multiple versions of the video in a variety of codecs. This has the potential to get even messier… Meanwhile, from a user’s perspective, you unfortunately will have to switch browsers to view video in a different codex, which certain users may want to, as there’s a big difference in quality and performance in video codecs.”
“Hi Tim, You wrote: ‘Microsoft has announced that it will support HTML 5.’ I’ve also read they have suggested breaking out different working groups to work on different parts of HTML 5. Do you have a link or reference to something where they’ve actually said they will support all the major features, in one form or another, of the current HTML 5 draft? I went looking for some sort of statement but couldn’t find it. Microsoft is always the elephant in the room when it comes to cross-browser support for HTML 5.”
“There are no plugins perhaps, but because several major vendors have refused to support Ogg Theora, there is currently no standard codec that does not have patent problems.”
“A couple of others have already made the ‘what do you mean, no plugins, no mismatched codecs?’ comments that I was going to add… Sadly, I see the demo html5 page at youtube seems to present only proprietary .mp4 video, requiring a proprietary plugin for those of us not using Safari.”
“In the graph the vertical axis is nerdgasmicity. The horizontal axis is goldfish-time. I got this from reddit.”
“Google going big for HTML5 is probably helped by the fact that the sole author for HTML5, Ian Hickson, works for Google.”
“OK, HTML 5 is probably awesome. But IE is gonna screw it all up by being 5 years late to adopt or going their own direction. Standards are great for development, but only if they are enforced!!”
“On the plugin vs. HTML 5 comments I don’t understand why anyone assumes it is a winner-take-all contest or that we will escape from “plugin hell” any time soon. The work Google and Mozilla are doing is wonderful but I also think many people take a more realistic attitude toward the value of plugins.”
There are some personal judgments in there, but also some reasonable questions too.
This week, those reasonable questions may be overwhelmed by effusive hype, but these questions will persist.
These are questions that the presenters must persuasively answer before the future they declare can arrive.
So… if you talk about Flash with your partners or friends, the next few weeks may be difficult. I don’t think the hype will reach Oprah-like levels, but it will be close. Hang in there. Look at the claims yourself, seek out skeptical questions, determine if these are openly answered.
But the trend’s your friend. Hype cycles last only so long before the journalistic pressure to debunk them becomes overwhelming. Truth does out.