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How flash animation changed online websites

How flash animation changed online websites

🕔03.Apr 2014

When one thinks of computer science and technology, there’s usually a vision of a rapidly evolving landscape. And, to be fair, this usually is the case. However, every now and then the IT world hits on something which proves quite difficult to overcome. Arguably the largest in recent memory have to do with flash animation. To modern eyes, this might seem rather surprising. Flash is almost as common as HTML itself these days.

However, it’s easy to look at the aftereffects and forget the reason it happened. Flash really gained popularity around the year 2000. People who used computers at that time often have an overly rosy idea of what it was like. While it was similar in many ways to the modern era, it was still significantly different as well.

One of the biggest problems came down to multimedia. CD-ROM peripherals and the content stored on Zip drives were showing the world that it was possible to provide a great multimedia experience on computers. The world was also just starting to see the Internet as a viable medium for both the office and home. It was natural to think of the two things coming together. At the same time though, a multimedia experience was limited by the fact that most people were suffering under dial-up. And, not only was it dial-up, it was often quite slow even for that medium. Streaming audio and video over the Internet was a difficult thing for people at that point.

And that’s the point where Flash really made a splash. First and foremost, the nature of it’s video system meant that animation could be done with minimal bandwidth use. The secret came from the fact that it allowed one to encode the instructions for drawing lines and colors to the screen. Most video at the time was simply raw video compressed down with, at the time, fairly inefficient and bandwidth heavy codecs. A grainy and terrible looking video feed taken of a flash animation might be anywhere from ten to a hundred times the size of the crisp and beautiful flash animation itself. This sort of high quality video at small size caught the world by storm.

While many people rose to the attention of the world, notable attention should be given to Matt and Mike Chapman. The brothers unleashed their Flash cartoon Homestar Runner into the world late 2000. Though it didn’t reach it’s final stage of design until around 2001. The series not only brought Flash to the attention of a far wider potential audience, it also provided one of the first examples of a successful multimedia production company that only targeted the Internet and made all profits through merchandising. The brothers were quite successful, and kept that idea until finally retiring from the franchise about a decade later.

What really made the difference is that a business idea arose with a need that wasn’t met at the time. Flash gave one powerful multimedia capabilities without the limit of bandwidth. It also gave one use of actionscript, a programming language that was quite easy to use compared to the standards at the time. This combination gave artists with an interest in technology the tools to do something unique, new, and in the end profitable. It changed the entire way business was done.

What people often forget is that this can happen all over again. The industry has issues which make progress difficult for a while. Eventually, people find a way past it. And the people who pay attention have the advantage in being first in line for the next big thing.