Blend Your Last Frogs. Google Turns A Blind Eye To Flash.

Google has announced that it will no longer index Flash files.

Journey with me to a time in a faraway internet; a time before we had monetized social media. A time when the page you shared with your friends was your page and not a page on someone’s network. Way back when Visual Basic was what Python is now and JavaScript was a hack mostly used for cool effects. A hero arose. Macromedia Flash opened the gates to the interactive web, and for a chunk of time it consumed more than a decent portion of humanity’s attention and artistic output.

Computer art was growing, but was it public? How many grandmothers would see a demo?

New grounds were paved and anyone who wanted to become an animator or a web designer could manage it in a few tutorials. Only a few years before Flash took off, people had started talking about computers as a source for art in mostly theoretical terms. There were demoscenes, university studies, and professional communities, of course, but were they truly public? Suddenly Flash made computer art an everyday thing. How could computers not be used for art? In schools and offices all over the world people of varying technical skill would get links to games, animation, and clever sites sent by their friends and colleagues.

For 23 years Flash has had this incredible creative legacy. Yet it’s not perfect by any means. It’s a constant headache for our friendly neighborhood super-conglomerates. Apple hates how it drains the battery on their mobile devices, and that it’s a little village outside of their walled garden. Microsoft sees it as another endless security violation. They all saw it as a competitor product eating their proprietary code bases.

Coders and professionals also started to see the light as new technologies came down the line. While many programmers cut their teeth on ActionScript, JavaScript demos and environments grew more impressive each year as the web standards grew to include everything from video streaming to 3D rendering; largely as a direct result of Flash’s influence.

The Tides Began to Shift

For users outside the realm of computer experts it was a confusing time. Suddenly a person’s browser was haranguing them to switch to new media players. It was asking them if they were really sure they wanted to experience their usual content. Many users saw Flash through the lens of fun memories with their friends and simply didn’t understand the deciding factors. For anyone who grew up in this time, Flash was a part of life.

It came and it conquered.

So is it fair for Google to blind itself to Flash? Maybe Google forgets the artistic debt we owe to Flash. Maybe all Google sees is that annoying thing they had to replace on Youtube until their mix of HTML5, Javascript, and trackers could take over.

The truth is, as usual, grey. While there are certainly alternate motivations from the many companies competing in this space, it’s always good science to ask if their stances have any merit alone. The truth is that Flash is an ancient bit of technology that’s been surpassed and replaced by superior ones. It’s proprietary. It’s a security vulnerability. Its encapsulated nature is at odds with the integrated web we have now: where there’s not much seam between JavaScript, web assembly, HTML, and the browser’s engine. Its time has long since passed.

What Does it Mean to Have Free Access to Information?

Yet, we do wonder about the rhetoric Google puts forth. Google’s fundamental premise is a list of algorithmically ranked public web resources. The truth tends to lean towards an advertisement delivery network.  Is it correct for Google to stop indexing a certain type of file just because that file no longer aligns with its internal view on acceptable technologies? An index of information like Google’s is more than a service, it’s a cultural cornerstone.

Goodbye forever.
Goodbye forever.

Years ago Yahoo shut down Geocities without much warning and without much of a plan. In a blink, one of the largest reflections and snapshots of the public mind at the birth of the information era was lost. Many of our Hackaday articles now point to nothing because of this.  Internet archaeologists certainly tried their best to save it, but it was an imperfect rescue.

So the question is, is burning the index to the library of Alexandria just as bad as burning the library itself? Even if that library contains technological stone tablets; will we be left with nothing but cooling memories of an interactive web. A web we’ll never see again? A web which arose at the start of this strange network taking over our collective consciousness. While there is still a server hosting that content for public access, should it not be indexed?

62 thoughts on “Blend Your Last Frogs. Google Turns A Blind Eye To Flash.

  1. I appreciate the time taken to write this. With how cheap storage is nowadays, if [insert large company here] wanted to earn some street cred with the public, they should start an internet history preservation service. Sure, the wayback machine is great, but that’s barely scratching the surface! With enough attention to detail, you could choose certain times and try to index the most popular searches and sites, giving the user a chance to experience what the internet used to be like. And that doesn’t just have to be an effort for the past, the internet RIGHT NOW needs to be peserved for future study.

      1. The Brothers Chaps have been working hard to move all their stuff onto YouTube, but it isn’t the same – Flash is interactive, YouTube isn’t – and there are still a few videos that are available only in Flash form.

  2. “The truth is that Flash is an ancient bit of technology that’s been surpassed and replaced by superior ones. ”

    Has it? And yes that’s a serious question.

    ” While many programmers cut their teeth on ActionScript, JavaScript demos and environments grew more impressive each year as the web standards grew to include everything from video streaming to 3D rendering; largely as a direct result of Flash’s influence.”

    And yet how many sites use SVG? At least with Flash one got that and the bag of chips.

    1. Are there any content creation tools as good as Flash’s, which emit HTML5? _Can_ the kind of content that was par for the course in Flash be made in HTML5? The interpreter technology’s irrelevant if nobody can use the tools.

      1. “Are there any content creation tools as good as Flash’s, which emit HTML5”

        Yes, Adobe’s Flash.
        Adobe Animator, for some time now, can compile to Flash, HTML5, WebGL, and SVG
        Adobe Flash Builder can compile to Flash, HTML5, and native iOS and Android applications.

    2. – Agreed. Moreso on the chrome no-flash-support side, their angst against flash seems ridiculous. How many millions (billions) have been spent on flash site development, and they get to decide ‘we don’t want to support it’ because they have a big enough market share to do so? NOAA.gov for example – just to look at a dang weather radar takes multi-click ‘allow flash’ in chrome every time you visit, without a ‘permanent allow site’ option (at least not readily available). And I doubt noaa overhauling their site to remove flash is a small investment, or even in the budget. So while the msgs now to enable are already obnoxious, chrome flat out stopping to support it in the future seems like BS. It’s like a self-signed cert, if I want to acknowledge the risk, it should be my call, and not their’s to flat out block the site. Leaning towards a new browser…

  3. “Is it correct for Google to stop indexing a certain type of file just because that file no longer aligns with its internal view on acceptable technologies?”

    Is G obligated to index anything whatsoever?

    If G indexed a Flash File containing a malicious intent, are they partially responsible for any damage done from it?

    1. I think google keeps indexing. But they’ve dropped things or lowered them in menus so much that you can’t find them.

      So google keeps archiving Usenet, but tge previous interface is gone, so it’s harder to find things onky on Usenet.

      At one point they had something in place for blog posts, now that’s gone, so you can’t easily see what bloggers are saying about a specific topic.

      Likely other examples.

    2. >”Is G obligated to index anything whatsoever?”

      The choice to not index particular information that is otherwise in common use can be seen as abuse of their dominant market position.

      You can make the same argument that Google is not obligated to index sites of any particular political candidates, therefore yours doesn’t have to appear on Google search.

  4. What I remember of flash is some websites that used only flash, to dazzle visitors. But I couldn’t get in, my browser was “incompatible”. Websites were about getting the word out, impossible if you told some people they weren’t welcome.

    1. Glitzy landing pages that didn’t load properly, couldn’t be bypassed, took ages to render, required a compatible browser or an add on download, chewed your battery, burned up your data allowance and just plain took up your time while they did their thing. Yeah, I sure miss Flash.

  5. Flash was maligned by Apple because they knew that it would instantly become the only way people developed software for the iPhone it they let Flash work on it, and then the apps would work on every phone and browser by everybody. They wanted to force everybody into their ecosystem, so they could take rent on it.
    And everybody somehow believed them, even their competitors. Even Adobe themselves!
    Flash was a wonderful system for developing all sorts of applications. HTML5 as a replacement STILL isn’t really up to the task. Adobe shoulda stuck with it, but lacked the vision to understand the value of the cross-platform platform that they controlled.
    It is a sad day, on top of many sad days that have already passed.

  6. Killing flash is stupid. Why not just remove it from browsers and open up the codebase so we can have a real offline flash player? That could even… be maintained!
    Moreover, flash game sites are already developing their own “offline” solutions, and I bet they will have some annoying DRM compared to “search for `.swf` in html source, download the game, and enjoy it offline as singleplayer/local multiplayer games ought to be enjoyed.
    Well, you will still get your swf with a bit of sniffing, sure, DRM is pointless by nature and may not be present at all per say, since obscurity will already be enough to put off people who are not determined, but who knows.
    Will opening up flash prevent that hassle? Well, it’s not like that’s the main reason to open it, and yeah, maybe, if it’s AGPL ;) . And GPLv3 has anti-DRM clause, so that would actually be a given :D . Also AGPL is still feared by many, which may help ensure a competitor doesn’t get to fuck up Adobe’s flash retirement mission by making a proprietary clone to try and market.
    Not that a copyleft license is very likely, but anything would be beneficial to preserving the history.

    1. I do.html, but it’s text only. It comes first if I.do a relevant search. Though it helps I’ve been at the same ISP since 2006 and the page had been at my previous ISP for at least five) and since it’s a list of upcoming used book sales, it changes regularly.

  7. At what point does the great goog get either “obligated,” held accountable to federal, if not global, standards set by the people’s representative governments, per public need, to properly maintain public services [including the arts] for which only they provide [like an electric or water company], or get broken-up like Ma Bell or MS? Seriously.

    1. And, frankly, that should include things like universal [non-targetted] search results, search-syntax revision selection, plausibly search by date, wherein non-targetted [and maybe even targetted] search-results found on one date will return the same ordered list at a later date, UI revision-selection, and more. This damned thing, whether we like it or not, is essentially the world’s library-of-congress index-system, ferchrissakes. If the LOC played so loosely with its system, jobs would be lost, and we’re not just talking about workers in the library system.

    2. I find it offensive when people suggest that Google has obligations. They’re a for-profit company obligated to no-one but their shareholders. They invested billions that you didn’t.

      I don’t like the power that Google wields without oversight but expecting them to respect anything but profit is insane.

      If Search is critical to society then there should be a Search controlled by something other than a for-profit company.

  8. Google showing its real colours! MONEY !!!
    Old sites with Flash probably don’t generate the money that new sites do, so google kills them.

    There was a time when Alta vista ruled the internet indexing. Maybe it’s time for a new internet indexer to rule.

    1. There are several. I haven’t found any which are functional. Two which I’ve seen (never used them myself) is swf2js, which doesn’t support sound or AS3, and appears to be abandoned; and shumway, from Mozilla, officially abandoned and the repository locked, and which had to be installed as a browser addon.

      I’m seriously worried about the vast quantities of historic content that’s just going to evaporate when flash interpreters stop being a thing. Grow Cube, Orisinal, Homestar Runner (the non-interactive videos aren’t the same) — hell, even Homestuck is abandoning its interactive game pages. If you want to reread it, do it now before it’s too late.

      1. swf2js is awesome! While it doesn’t support every swf file, the implementation is a simple 781kb js file that can be imported in any website, allowing the content to run even on modern browsers and phones

  9. I should think that a website that revels in the fascination with arcana of everything from old UNIX to ZX-81 hijinks would realize that the Internet is a very protean place, and with any sort of continued interest, repositories and populations of fans enthusiasts and new developments will churn along, likely in very amusing fashion. If new software is being written for Commodore 64 platforms, Flash shouldn’t mourned quite yet.

    1. The web was made to present information independently of the flavour of your computer or operating system. Nice idea. I hoped for the library of Alexandia-2.0 those days.

      But then the brain dead add ons spoiled everything.

      Humans trash everything.

      1. Annoyed when the local Fringe Festival’s website turned me away ( “you need to upgrade your browser”), I happened to be reading about about Tim Berners-Lee, and out popped a quote about his intent behind the Web. Something about it being to get information out, and it fails when people use something tyat isn’t for all browsers. I had the quote on my website for some years.

    2. “I can’t ever remember a legit use for flash.”

      Define “legit”.

      I was part of the interactive dept of a big ad agency in the early/mid 2000’s. Flash was the simplest and best-supported way to deliver a rich, highly functional, animated application. We banged out some pretty good banners and box ads with intriguing motion and interactivity. We also integrated flash front-ends with back-end databases for animated forms and small applications.

      There were some other possibilities – I made some pretty good interactive Java applets and I remember a Canadian startup called “Astound” which was a wrapper and IDE for rapid development of applets. But Flash seemed easier, faster and more dependable overall.

      And of course – flash games!

      Nowadays, it’s possible to do the same level of interactivity using Javascript or some extension of it. I don’t personally know of a Javascript IDE that equals the Flash environment, but I haven’t been working in advertising for a decade.

  10. I understand Google’s reasoning for this. Flash can (and has been) used maliciously, and in the past it was used for storage that persisted even after you cleared your cookies (which made it great for sites that wanted to track you, even in incognito mode).

    But others here are right: Google should still index them, but if you want to search for them, you should need to know the right search terms (e.g. filetype:swf). It’s the best of both worlds.

    1. > I understand Google’s reasoning for this. Flash can (and has been) used maliciously…

      And so has: doc(x), xls(x), pdf, g00gle Chrome, windoze, PHP, JavaScript, ZIP, MSI, … and the list goes on and on. Adobe is still updating the flash plugin, so its not unsupported. But probably the more lethal thing coming Flash’s way is browsers refusing to support the classic plugin format.

  11. The thing that concerns me with this is that its basically censorship and g00gle forcing its will upon developers and users alike. There system is supposed to provide URLs matching a user’s search request. Not tell everybody what they can and can’t do to make their websites or tell users they can’t do X. I think its time to boycot them. Go to DuckDuckGo!

    FYI: I hate everything Adobe. IMO no large company really concerns themselves with their customer desires. But if someone has something I want to see and its in flash then I want to see it.

    :-)

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