Forget Flash – content is king
A bit of web wisdom too often forgotten...
My story begins with a blizzard. This blizzard dumped over a metre-and-a-half of snow on my hometown. This being Edmonton in the winter, we’re fairly used to this sort of thing. Those with big, heavy cars drive them into a road-shoulder snowbank and make their own parking spots. Those with smaller cars park behind them. My fiancée failed to remember she has a small car, managed to get stuck, and blew the reverse gear on her car’s transmission.
Thus began a quest for an A540E transmission for a 1993 Toyota Camry. Being a sysadmin, the first thing I did was ask Google politely if it knew about any used units living near me. Google was entirely unhelpful. I opened the phonebook and called around to the local wreckers ... no luck. I poked around every major city in western Canada and still came up with bupkus. I got so desperate I even tried eBay; no luck there, all the transmissions listed were from the US. They wouldn’t ship to Canada.
With a little digging, I discovered a fantastic website. www.car-parts.com is a service that – had I known about it – would have saved me about a week’s worth of searching and long-distance phone calls. Apparently, a goodly chunk of the auto-wreckers and used parts dealers in North America have signed up with this site. They list their inventory, condition of items, mileage, you name it.
My discovery of this site took a little work. It doesn’t exactly come up high in the Google search rankings when you are noodling around the internets looking for a transmission. Instead, I had started to notice that several of the auto wrecker websites I visited were using an identical interface to provide the ability to search their inventory. At first, I thought the reason was as simple as some brilliantly opportunistic web developer selling a pre-made package to shops across Canada.
After the 10th identical parts interface, I was starting to have my doubts. Small businesses do not actually update their websites frequently enough to have the full, complete and most importantly identical range of makes and models across so many sites. This had to be joined-up somewhere. I took a look in the source code. I went looking for any cross-site scripting calls and sure enough, there was car-parts.com. The website itself is terrible; the design aesthetic was dated by the late ‘90s and the implementation on the websites of the various businesses using it is a cross-site scripting nightmare. From the standpoint of a systems administrator, almost everything about it makes me cry.
From the standpoint of a guy looking for a transmission, however, it was an absolute godsend. As terrible as the interface and technical bits are, the website had the information I needed. Though primitive, the interface was simple to use and got me where I needed to go with a minimum of fuss.
This simple and obvious idea of a one-stop-site for used car parts served to remind me that even on the HTML5, Flash, AJAX and CSS-enhanced wilderness of the internet, content is still king. ®
"Full Internet Experience"
I have used commercial sites with Flash and sites without Flash. As a general rule of thumb, the more Flash content there is, the fouller the "Internet Experience" becomes.
You sit there while several hundred kB of some marketing driod's notion of what you find appealing grinds out of a server and wings its way down to you with a nice, reassuring downloading animation.
Eventually the edifice plays and you realise that, no, it's not any relevant infomration, it's just a landing page with a hapless animation about just how marvellous the latest promotion is.
One of the worst offenders is the motor industry. In the end I siimply gave up with the nice, glossy flash based marketing tripe that passses for real, usable product information. It was so slow, so unpleasant.
Please, PLEASE PL f-ing EASE, less Flash/Silverlight and the like.
Let's have a "Full Internet Experience" by all means, but lets make it a pleasant one: Nice, tidy HTML; no bloody flash ads, no bloody Flash promos, gimmicks and the like; no mindless marketing; no web 2.0 hrea.
DO tell me clearly and succinctly about the product. DON'T show me dumb your marketing department is.
Froyo, multitouch, seven inch screen, marketplace app. What it doesn't have is a >800Mhz CPU, so no Flash for me. Not that it matters since there's plenty of free and cheap games on the market.
Anyway, I think you fail at the point of the article. Gimmickry is all well and good but this is the web, not some walled-off orchard. If your gimmickry gets in the way of the purpose of your site then you fail at usability and usefulness.
Only in North America
Would a Toyota Camry be considered a 'small' car.