OPINION29 December 2011

Gone in a Flash

Opinion Technology

Adobe’s decision to halt development of the mobile Flash plugin will shape the course of rich content development in online surveys, says Jason Cazes of Kinesis Survey Technologies.

Within the past few years, the latest versions of these browser languages – specifically HTML5 and CSS3 – have rapidly extended support by naturalising features and functions that previously required third-party plugins like Flash. Essentially, common tasks like video embedding, intuitive page design, and graphical enhancements have been standardised into features. Couple these language enhancements with the maturing of open-source Javascript libraries like jQuery (an assortment of animations, effects, and other scripts), and web developers now have myriad alternatives to Flash at their disposal for creating rich web content.

“Flash may only be a viable resource for engaging surveys for another year or two. Technology standardisation and defragmentation across platforms will provide researchers with a more streamlined design process for multimodal surveys”

This is fortunate as last month Flash’s creator, Adobe, announced it would no longer actively develop the Flash player plugin for smartphone and tablet devices and will only provide security updates and patches. The company will continue developing the Flash plugin for desktops, but when it comes to supporting mobile platforms, Adobe is getting on the HTML5 bandwagon with Apple, Google, Microsoft and RIM.  

This development (or the future lack thereof) will go some way towards setting the course of rich content development in online surveys. Making surveys work seamlessly on both desktop and mobile platforms is going to become a major concern of survey designers as increasing numbers of respondents choose to take online surveys on their web-enabled devices.

Putting aside the lack of Flash support provided by Apple’s iOS browser (which constitutes a large proportion of the US and global smartphone market), the technology has never been truly optimised and scaled for any mobile platform. Because of this, Flash itself may only be a cost-effective and viable resource for engaging surveys for another year or two.

Technology standardisation and defragmentation across platforms – desktop versus smartphone versus feature phone – coupled with the rapid smartphone adoption in developed nations will ultimately provide researchers with a more streamlined design process for multimodal surveys, and this should reduce programming costs in the industry.

The best way to ensure universal support and to eliminate device bias among respondents is to use plugin-agnostic technologies like HTML, CSS, and Javascript that are supported by nearly all browsers and devices.

HTML5 browser support – while ubiquitous in modern smartphones – is not yet prolific enough on desktop PCs and feature phones for market researchers to use the technology without putting in place safeguards similar to what a developer should do when using Flash:

  1. Implement automatic browser checks at the beginning of the questionnaire that disable respondents with unsupported browsers from taking the survey.
  2. If the technology from ( 1 ) is unavailable, disclose to respondents on the first page of the questionnaire which browsers and devices the survey design supports.

As the HTML5 standard is finalised and support in browsers broadens, more and more resources will continue to emerge, reproducing some of the rich and intuitive content Flash brought to the table.

Jason Cazes is the lead sales engineer for Kinesis Survey Technologies

1 Comment

8 years ago

As a result of these changes, enter Javascript as the de rigueur and open-source language for creating interactive and animation effects on the web. This rise of Javascript will bring some important changes in online survey building and data collection to the industry, including: 1) Where Flash fell down is where Javascript has matured. When Javascript was introduced in 1996, there were lots of cross-browser compatibility issues. Now Javascript libraries have been built and with their wide adoption, they solve these issues and make coding easier. Most sites with any drag and drops, accordions, draggable widgets, scrollable photo galleries, etc. will be using JQuery or a similar library. Unlike Flash, Javascript runs on all smartphones and tablets, so expect coding libraries to be coming soon which standardise across platforms too. 2) Web giants like Facebook are using Javascript to improve the user experience. For example, hover over the messages tab in your Facebook account and you are shown a drop down with content from the latest messages you have received, so you can look at them without interrupting whatever else you are doing there. Scroll down your news feed and another block of content appears as you nearly reach the bottom, barely disturbing your reading experience. Ecommerce sites use Javascript to load only parts of a web page with lightning quick speeds, so as not to lose those impulse purchasers. Imagine if as a research buyer / survey builder you could cut survey length times by 20-25%? You could then obtain the data you need at a substantial cost savings, as a result of a shorter and more engaging survey experience. 3) Javascript is primarily a client side language, meaning it tells your browser to react to things you do in a certain way. However, server-side Javascript is also on the rise, increasing the ease with which applications built by different organisations can talk to each other. Imagine having a slick looking registration survey (flashy in so far that it is visually impressive and positions your brand well, but does not use Flash) as part of an online market research community site and having that route on and validate according to information from your existing database of customers. In fact this is what we build for our clients at EasyInsites, in the form of custom panels to sign-up valuable audiences for positive engagement and continuous feedback. As platform providers continue to support Javascript, not only will its open source nature mean more exciting innovations, also modern browsers will continue to build faster Javascript engines (Google Chrome is a good example of this). This is important for online researchers because as an industry, our ability to continue to grow is increasingly driven by technological innovation in the sense that we always need new tools and methods for collecting, analysing and displaying data.

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