Today’s sneak preview of the REAL “Flash Killer”

As one who makes a living creating Flash content and supporting Adobe’s Flash platform, check I awoke to something this morning that definitely made me pucker a bit: I witnessed the one thing that could surely put an end to Flash’s dominance and its acceptance as a viable Web solution.

No, it’s not a new tool like Silverlight or OpenLaszlo, and it’s not a new technology like Ajax or Velobrox: It’s the misuse of ActionScript (or at least the perception of a misuse of ActionScript) by Web advertisers who don’t seem to care whether a user sees anything else other than their ad.

This morning, IndieClick began running a SWF-based ad for Cartoon Network channel-sharer Adult Swim (which also relies on Flash heavily for its site), and frankly, they #@$%^@ed it up.

The ad, which was featured prominently on the popular Something Awful forums, managed to keep the rest of the site from loading every time it was displayed. This resulted in a 200-post thread in which regular users of the forum (between crashes, of course) first complained, and then provided one another with links to tools such as AdBlock and FlashBlock, essentially eliminating the content — and any other Flash or advertising-related content the user might come across on the Web.

Now don’t get wrong — I tend to block ads myself at times, but only on sites that try to shove them down my throat; Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka, the owner of SomethingAwful.com, has worked hard to ensure the site’s ads fit into his paying customers’ experience (even going so far as to create an amusing series of sometimes-hilarious “fake” ads he keeps in regular rotation with the others). It’s one of the few sites I specifically unblock.

But by the time any forum moderator could act (this began at midnight on a weekend, after all), the damage was done: By this morning, countless more people had installed the Flash-blocking tools, and Kyanka deemed it necessary to make a public apology on behalf of his own site for running the Flash ad:

Indieclick began running a campaign for Adult Swim’s “Metalocalypse,” using a lovely Flash ad which apparently used actionscript providing the content-enhancing feature of “not allowing the rest of the page to load at all.” I can’t understand why somebody would think this would be a crucial thing to include in their ad, but then again I’m not a savvy businessman like the people at Adult Swim.

Regardless, I have removed all Indieclick ads from rotation, so the issue should be resolved. If you were forced to download Adblock and block all SA ads, I truly apologize and ask if you could disable adblocking. Our recurring revenue comes solely from advertisements, and if they are all blocked, it makes it much more difficult for me to pay the additional employees I’ve hired to work on coding new forum features for you. If you refuse to stop blocking ads, that’s fine, but I want you to know it does impact us and make it more difficult to pay for additional coding help.

Now, whether the problem was actually with ActionScript or with some errant JavaScript that also accompanied the spot is up to the philosophers, but frankly, it doesn’t matter: The fact is, more people are blocking Flash content now — thanks to this. And when it happens again, even more people will do it.

So make sure the content you produce doesn’t do this, ok?

Because, remember the day you disabled Java in Internet Explorer 3? Do you ever remember turning it back on?

Me neither.

Update:In their defense, it seems IndieClick has taken responsibility for the problem and is taking steps to make sure similar issues don’t occur again. In a surprisingly candid — and extremely welcome — post to the SA community, president Heather Luttrell explained:

The IndieClick banner that was malfunctioning last night has been removed. It was loaded incorrectly on our side and created a problem for everyone who was trying to load the forums last night. Many of you said that you turned on banner blocking. … I am very sorry this problem occurred and I truly apologize for creating a problem that prevented everyone from enjoying this site last night. Please forgive us. IndieClick was started by people like me who have spent thousands of hours on messageboards like this one, being irritated by blinking and stupid ads. It is our intention to serve only high-quality, relevant ads. Our advertisers work with us because we commit to bringing them to great audiences who will be interested in their stuff. We hate screwing up and take it very very seriously. I am sorry about this and we have taken steps to add more QA to our process to prevent anything like this from happening ever again.

Well said, Heather. And thanks for saying it!

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2 thoughts on “Today’s sneak preview of the REAL “Flash Killer””

  1. Hi Vito, thanks for the heads-up. Do we know yet what the failure was with that ad? I’ve seen some that get greedy with framerates, and others which prompt script timeouts, but I haven’t seen ones which prevent other content from showing. Do we know the mechanism yet?

    And I’m really sensitive to this “hosting other people’s content” issue, whether it’s SWF sigs in webforums, or sites trusting ad networks which trust individual advertisers’ creative groups. Same thing comes up with widgets and RSS services… when we’re publishing material from others, we’ve got to make sure of their material and delivery.

    I’m on limited connectivity now and can’t dig deep… if you see info on how this SWF failed it’d be great to pass along to the toolmakers here, thanks.

    jd/adobe

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