Lift festivial 2004 website

Ok a brief introduction to get people up to speed. Miles and me were planning on going to the Lawrence Lessig lecture last Thursday. So we went to the Lift 2004 site which contained all the information about the event. However we hit a impressively atrocious all-Flash site. The site drove us mad. So we both wrote seperate emails to the publicly funded LIFT. Mine has not been acted on at all while miles has got a lot futher. The situation is now LIFT have passed miles email on to the designers who built the site. This is the last email sent from Miles. And I would like to say now I'm am shocked and ashamed to be part of an industry where people lie, are lazy and break laws with public money…

Thanks for your email, ##. I have a feeling I'm engaged in a multilateral discussion, which I am taking as giving me license to address an anonymous third party in a “frank and fair” manner, without being overly concerned about hurting the feelings of the “transmission medium”. If I am mistaken in this, please accept my apologies in advance.

Sadly the response does not address any of the concerns I raised. In fact, it looks like a stock answer on the assumption that I am some kind of anti-Flash zealot. I am not an anti-Flash zealot.

Flash has its uses, and a legitimate place on the Web. The response alludes to one (wrapping media in order to achieve a “universal codec”), which is an epiphenomenal rather than core benefit. An example of a _core_ benefit could be Flash's use as a lightweight, graphics-oriented, almost ubiquitous, programming language, cleaner, faster, and more compact than Java, and better able to deliver rich interactivity for, say, online games, than crash-prone Java ever could.

> We used java script to enable roll overs – as we have done on the main site. The use of flash was conscious and we felt it would not serve as a deterrent since 94% of internet users have flash installed – I do take very seriously this issue of the resizing the window, and would certainly not approve that in future.

This is not true. JavaScript is not used on the site to enable rollovers. As most of the site is Flash, there is no need for rollovers. On the “Launch” page, the JavaScript is used to resize the window of the Flash site. In the Flash site, the JavaScript is used as a browser-detection routine to nag users to install a Flash player, and to handle the Close action in the top left of the screen. There is also a popup window handler to launch and display a centred popup window. What this is for is a mystery to me.

The 94% of Internet users have Flash installed argument is a specious argument in this case. It is as relevant to claim that 94% of |nternet users have Cyrillic fonts installed so the site should be written in Russian. I will develop this thesis below.

> A short film made by Societas Raffaello Sanzio can be viewed on the site, it is built in flash since to have used Windows Media Player would have not worked for users accessing the site from MACS.

As I acknowledge, this is a perfectly good justification for Flash – though the reasoning you present is flawed. It is not, however, a justification for building the entire site in Flash. After all, the short film is one small part of the site, not the site in its entirety or its raison d'être (which is, on the contrary, to present information to the public about LIFT 2004). There is no reason why the film couldn't have been wrapped in Flash and embedded in an otherwise HTML site.

However, since you begin your argument with the claim that because 94% of Internet users have Flash (though, you neglect to say, probably not Flash 6 or above – which the site demands) installed, the decision to use Flash is justified, allow me a digression on this point.

Apple claims to have a 4% share of the personal computer market. That means 96% of the market does _not_ use Macs. Of the 4% who use Macs, given their typical profile, at least half must have downloaded and installed the Windows Media Play for Mac OS (I did – others can too!). As you are likely to be ignoring Linux users in your 94% claim, that means 98% of Internet users can view Windows Media Files, and 96% can view them on their native platform – so, what possible justification is there for wrapping Windows Media Files in Flash – as you actually exclude more users (94% is smaller than 98%) that way? Could it be, perhaps, that some of the “creatives” use Macs, and wouldn't want to feel left out?

> We endeavoured to create a site that offered information but also expressed the nature of the artists work.

You can't seriously expect me to believe _that_! The artists concerned are mainly involved in the domain of performance. Since the site is not video-rich (the most obvious way of translating performance directly to the Web), you have carried out a metaphoric expression of the nature of the artists' work. You therefore had absolute freedom to construct the metaphor, since you were not engaged in literal mapping. If you felt that Flash was the only way of making that metaphoric transposition, you have suffered one of the more significant creative failures in the recent history of design.

> It has been an interesting experiment – and LIFT has learnt a great deal from experimenting in this way. We are very grateful for comments received, both praise and criticism, since it will enable us to learn as an organisation, and hone our skills in using new media in dynamic and artistic ways whilst mindful of the principle need to offer clear navigation and clarity of information to the public.

I am endeavouring to treat “you” as an intelligent interlocutor. I would be grateful if “you” would extend the same courtesy to me. A 90s-style exercise in Flashturbation can only count as an experiment if you are experimenting in time-travel or nostalgia. LIFT is doing (I hope) neither.

Let me restate my concerns:

Flash is an inappropriate technology for delivering essentially narrative textual information over the web. It is inappropriate for 2 reasons.

One, Flash wraps textual content into a binary object, making an image of the text.

So, for example, if I wanted to copy something out of the site and paste it into an email to a friend – maybe to encourage them to attend an event – I could not. My friend would have to wade through the site, and may not find the event I was raving about, and so never attend. If I wanted to highlight an Artist's name, and search Google for more information about them, I could not. If I wanted to highlight a venue's address and get a map, its history, or details about assistive technologies offered for people with disabilities, I could not. In short, using Flash to convey narrative text you have failed to understand how the Web differs from print media in a, frankly, catastrophic way. You have created a site that neuters the Web, diminishes to the scale of your withered imagination. In so doing, you have undermined your brand, blinded your vision, and, quite possibly, lost ticket sales.

Two, Flash is not accessible to the partially sighted or visually impaired, and you offer no alternative to such users. In fact, your site is entirely useless for such people.

Excluding people with disabilities from an informational website is clearly bad. But maybe you shout “spastic” after paraplegic people, give the V to blind people, and hurl abuse behind the backs of deaf people. Maybe this makes you feel bold and edgy. Whatever. Legislators, in their wisdom, foresaw the meretricious 94% argument (94% of Internet users have Flash installed and are not blind), and made it illegal for public bodies to create inaccessible websites.

But maybe you smoke a spliff to unwind, and drop some Es whilst out clubbing, so breaking the law connects you with the 18-35 demographic. Whatever. The people working at the LIFT events made a real effort to ensure accessibility. Wheelchair access in the venues, sign-language interpreters: the business, exemplary stuff. They seem like nice young people – working hard into the night, maybe volunteers, probably on minimum wage, really taking care to ensure nobody is excluded.

And you conduct an “experiment” that shows you don't give a toss. Is accessibility off the brand-message? Do cripples cramp your style? Dare you face the people working on LIFT 2004 and tell them that? “We know how hard you're working to include everybody in LIFT 2004, so we built a website that excluded some of them. Man, that is so edgy, I'm on a precipice!”

> Please do pass on my gratitude to ####### for having provided such a comprehensive response and for his time and commitment in doing so.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”



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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.