There’s an HTML5 killing Flash scab that keeps getting pulled off, every 1-2 months or so. In the most recent round, as I often do, I answered several question from a reporter (Howard Win in Computerworld) on the topic. The resulting story was pretty comprehensive and interesting.
Here’s the questions (from Howard), and my full answers, with some added comments here and there:
Q: What kind of challenges does any alternative to Flash face in the market now?
A: The main thing is gaining the ubiquity that Flash has. Flash is everywhere (desktop wise), trusted [well, except by several technical elite who see Flash as an annoyance], and works. Next up are tool support and video delivery support, which are not too difficult as folks like YouTube, Brightcove and others who have quickly tooled to alternatives show. The other difficulty are the features and DRM that Flash has built into it. These are things that could be built into any technology, it’s just that Flash has had time to work out the kinks. There was actually a great post from a YouTube staffer this morning going over all the reasons that they still need Flash, which applies to most everyone.
The interesting note there is that YouTube didn’t really express that
they “love” Flash [or "heart" it, a common techno-hipster way phrasing], just that they need it for these features. That’s a subtle, but important thing to notice.
Q: How much of a factor does online advertising play in the adoption of an alternative, since Flash is the entrenched technology most used by the online advertising community? As a counter view, there has been recent discussion, reporting, speculation that online porn could be a major factor in helping to accelerate the usage of HTML 5.
A: Those things play a role, for sure. If content people want to distribute (ads) and content people want to see (kittens, babies, kids singing, [pirated] videos, porn, etc.) is not available in some video format, that format will be less popular. However, I don’t think any love is lost from “the public” by making advertisers’ lives harder. Companies like Adobe, Microsoft, and Google
who want to suck in money from advertisers want to cater to them, but if those oh-so-popular videos of babies watching cats eating sandwiches and free porn are only available in a particular format [Flash or otherwise], people will stick with that format. Look at Real as an example: compared to Flash, there’s not much available in Real that people seem to care about. When’s the last time you played something in Real Player?
The point is, advertisers and other content producers will follow consumer demand or they’ll [have to] create such desirable products that people will use whatever video format they have to. No one is going to download some video player so they can see an ad. They’ll do it for cats, kids, and porn and as Netflix has shown, they’ll do it for movies and TV (Netflix requires Silverlight and has however many people using their on-demand stuff).
Q: In hindsight, what were the key factors that led to Flash’s success? Basically, what did Adobe do right?
Making the player free and embedded in the browser was a big deal. Other video players like Real and Windows Media didn’t have this “embeddedness” to them. Also, the frameworks for creating interactive animations let people build games and those darned interactive ads which motivated content producers and game players.
Q: Can Adobe’s success and strategy be copied by another company to champion another technology (such as what Apple and Google are doing with HTML 5), or have circumstances and times changed? In this regard, what do you think of Microsoft’s approach with Silverlight, up to now?
The problem facing Adobe now is from two ends of the spectrum: luxury computing and Wal-mart computing, Apple and Google. Apple used it’s design, advertising, and retail prowess to do the unthinkable: breath life into the dead space of consumer smart phones and then translate that into a vocal threat for Flash’s dominance on the web and mobile. Google, on the other hand, can use its piles of cash from selling better junk mail (online ads) to fund almost anything without having to worry about revenue generation…