Monthly Archives: August 2007

Flash Really Ain’t Bad

You hear it all the time – Flash interferes with SEO, Flash slows down a site, Flash is expensive, Flash won’t benefit most sites it is on. And while all this is true, in many situations, there is another side – that is the wise use of Flash.

Now, let us be plain about just what we are discussing. Part of the confusion about Flash comes down to the fact that people are lumping everything Flash together. There are actually three basic uses that are totally different:

1. Flash INTROS. When a site is created with a doorway or home page that is nothing but Flash. No meaningful text, no useful information other than this “loading” bar, and then a movie which, more often than not, really doesn’t tell you anything helpful. These pages are all but invisible to search engines, and to people with visual disabilities. A double whammy.

2. Flash SITES. Even worse. Like an entire site full of intro pages. Links built in Flash are invisible to search engines and to the visually disabled, or to anyone who does not have the right plugin. In other words, if the person cannot view the site on your terms, it is useless to them. It is also extremely slow, which translates as annoying.

3. Flash ELEMENTS. This is just a box on the page, maybe the header, maybe part of the page lower down, which has an animation in it. Nice for galleries, short visual messages, etc. All of the disadvantages that intros and sites have are eliminated, except for the speed issue. Even that is mitigated, because there are other things on the page for the visitor to see. There is content for the search engines, text for the blind to be able to grab with a text reader, and a potential enhancement to the appeal of the page to everyone else.

Now, that said, it still is not the “best” thing for every site. Most sites we build would not benefit from video animations at this time. Some do – I mean, if you are in a high end market that targets certain personality profiles, then video is a definite enhancement. For others though, it makes no difference, and therefore, cannot be a justifiable expenditure.

To include it in a site, we have to be reasonably certain that it will increase the monetary gain of the site owner – enough to offset the cost of including it. And there is an expense to be considered. Flash element creation requires either specialized skills and software, or simplified software that is purchased on a single site user license basis. So either way, there is going to be a cost. For a few businesses, you can see immediately that the cost would be justifiable. A few are equivocal, and others you can say with certainty that there would be no benefit.

Sites that WOULD benefit:

  • Any site selling videos.
  • Any site selling video production services.
  • Any site selling high end graphic design services.
  • Sites promoting highly visual products or services.
  • Sites promoting to a market that is impatient and largely visual, such as video gamers.
  • Sites selling action related items or services.
  • And other sites where motion is a definite enhancement to a sales message.

Sites that might benefit – worth using only if the site owner can afford it:

  • Sites selling trendy items.
  • Sites selling visually appealing items that are artistic in nature, but not high end.
  • Sites catering to teens or college age visitors.
  • Sites promoting design services where displaying a range of styles in a single place is helpful.
  • Sites selling unique and visually identifiable merchandise.

Sites that are unlikely to benefit from Flash:

  • Those selling products that are not easily identifiable through a picture.
  • Sites owned by people on an extremely tight budget – they can get more bang for the buck in other ways.
  • Sites catering to a frugal crowd – Flash looks expensive, and detracts from the message.
  • Sites that target the visually impaired.
  • Any site for which there is no strong purpose in the imagery and content of an animated or video clip.

Flash can be a great enhancement, and indeed a good investment for some websites. Of course, it also depends on what you DO with it – whether you are just throwing something in to throw something in, or whether you have a purpose, a plan, and a concept which will actually add to the quality of the site! Assuming it is done well, a certain percentage of sites can benefit from wisely used Flash elements.

And, technology is changing all the time. The standards by which we measure today will certainly change in a year or two. As internet speeds increase, and the low end moves up, we’ll have more options for using more resource intensive elements. As Flash evolves, someone is BOUND to create a means of coding to overcome the accessibility and SEO limitations. Until then though, it pays to understand what the limitations are, and how to work around them in effective ways.

From Durable, to Consumable

We are watching an evolution in our marketplaces. It has been happening for many years, and it has gained a little attention, but perhaps not what it should.

Manufacturers are changing durable goods, to consumbable goods. Durable goods are those that last long enough that purchases are infrequent. Consumable goods are those that we “use up”, and purchase more of. Traditionally, durable goods included clothing, tools, appliances, equipment, etc. Today, we see a trend, inspired partly by greed, to make durable goods consumables.

Consider – How long does clothing last now, compared to how long it lasted 20 years ago? A computer, once a 5-10 year purchase, is now a 1-3 year purchase. Appliances break and are discarded in 2-3 years. Washers and dryers, which once had a 10 year warranty, now have a 1 year warranty. Vacuum cleaners have plastic parts, and wear out in a very short time under use within a family (one of ours lasted just 4 months, and it was not abused).  Athletic shoes are made to last “one season” – that is, 3-4 months.

Prices have come down on many of these items, but durability has definitely taken some heavy hits. We live in a plastic world – I don’t mind plastic in general, if it is tough plastic. But many of the items that are being made from plastic are being made from plastic that is too weak to stand up to the average use of the product.

We’ve also seen a trend of lowering the prices of durable goods, while increasing the price of their related consumables. Printers are the best example of this – A printer used to cost several hundred dollars, but the ink cost $20 for a large cartridge. Today’s cartridges cost between $20 and $45, and hold less than a quarter of the ink the old ones held. But printers are cheap. In fact, printers are SO cheap, that it was once less expensive for us to purchase a new printer on sale than it was for us to replace the ink cartridges!

A durable good allows a manufacturer to profit just once per customer, for a specific period of time. A consumable good has them coming back, again and again. But the cost of making “disposable” goods in place of durable goods runs through more than just our pocketbooks. Environmentally, it has a huge impact. And it has a negative affect on society as a whole, in perpetuating the myth that nothing is permanent, and that if something bugs you, just throw it away.

Some say this is just a reflection of the society we live in. It should not be. The trend is disturbing, and continued, will have disastrous effects on the ability of families and small businesses to survive. If you have to not only plan to get something you need the first time, but also to afford to replace it every year, your budget is quickly out of control.

I see no solution though. I think in this instance, greed will out.

The Flu… and the Flu again, and Something Else

Eavesdropping on our family would be horridly unexciting. The sounds lately consist mostly of sniffs, coughs, harrumphs, snorts, low pitched nasal voices, and frequent whining. When everybody is sick, everybody has to do their chores anyway!
David did it. He came home from camp with a pretty severe respiratory virus. Erik got it. Then he got something else. Then he got a cold, all in rapid succession. Then David got the cold, Alex got a fever and headache, then Adriene, then Betsy, and about the time that Alex got the cold, Kevin and I came down with the fever and aches. No cough yet. I’m TIRED of everybody being sick. I’m tired of the sounds of mucus being expelled from bodily orifices. I’m tired of running out of Kleenex! Our acetaminophen and ibuprofen budget is out of control!

So Kevin and I, neither one feeling too good, tried to build a small porch today for a trailer house. Both of us moving slowly, worn out. Like a bad carpentry show in slow motion. But being self-employed, you work. You work even when you feel sick, as long as you are able. Nobody will pay us to stay home and wrap up in a blanket and force fluids. If we don’t work, there is no income. And we need income! The result was solid – but it wasn’t much work for a whole day!

We’ve been enjoying life around the illness though. It is good to have David home, with his humor and helpfulness. I took him to pick up his brand-new glasses yesterday. He asked me how fragile the filament was that held the lense in on the bottom. I told him I though it must be pretty sturdy, after all, Kevin has had a pair of glasses with half frames for about 4 years, and it has never broken. On the way home, after getting the glasses, David made an attempt to adjust the frames, and pulled the wrong way. The filament on the left frame snapped before we were even halfway home (it is an hour drive home, but STILL!). He sat there feeling really foolish, with a brand new pair of glasses with just one lens. He contemplated the possibilities of monocles – and abandoned the idea when holding the lens in with just his eyebrow and cheekbone gave him a cramp. The glasses lay in his other hand looking pathetic. After about 10 minutes, he perked up, and said, “Maybe I could just tell the other kids that I got contacts!”

The kids started homeschool yesterday. David is a great help with it, and Erik is now learning to tutor his siblings also. I was proud of them, they got right to their schoolwork without anyone having to tell them to, and they worked diligently to finish their lessons TWO DAYS IN A ROW! I know that the honeymoon is going to be over probably Thursday. After that, there will be the usual “I can’t find my pencil”, and “I didn’t eat breakfast yet!”.

And in all of this, I made two critical business decisions. The two sites I’ve had for sale forever, which are worth every bit I am asking (hey, they make me money… people think I’m gonna GIVE them away?), which I get LOTS of nibbles about, but which everyone runs from when they realize I want an actual amount of money for it, are no longer for sale. I’ve decided to rebuild them in a CMS, so I can expand their features. A monstrous amount of work, no idea HOW I’ll fit it in, but know that I have to so they can keep earning for us. Yes, that was two business decisions… keep one, keep the other. Two choices.

We’ll also be doing a booth at the Casper Events Center for the Idea Expo. This is our target market, and it makes sense. It is pricier than our usual, but should be worth it. This is one of those scary things though – going out on a limb to gather the resources to get everything together for it. Gotta go out on a limb to get the best fruit though.

Our son reports for his mission on the 24th of October. The same day our daughter is scheduled to ship out to Kuwait, for training to go into Iraq. Bit of an irony, really.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.