News and Insights

Pt. 2: Insight from a Digital Native

Kerry Grady, Founding Principal

The discussion with Grady Campbell Web Designer/Developer, Anthony Marty, continues… 

*Q: So many companies invested in websites built in Flash—possibly before they realized its future limitations. Why should they get an HTML5 makeover?

The main advantage HTML5 has over Flash, as well as other proprietary web development platforms like Silverlight (Microsoft), is that it is a protocol standard (or at least it will be once it’s finalized). First a little background: Flash is almost a standard in and of itself. Almost every interactive, media rich, website needed Flash support. However, the difference was that it is still a proprietary technology from a single vendor. Businesses needed to pay huge sums of money to developers to create and maintain web sites. Many of those web sites relied heavily on Adobe Flash to provide animations and other cool, interactive content.

The online environment has become highly fragmented through the process of developing support for various forms of multimedia on the web. HTML4 has been augmented, modified, tweaked, and stretched quite far beyond its initial scope to bring higher levels of interactivity and multimedia to sites. Through plugins like Flash, Silverlight and Java, websites could now support rich-media integration, but not without some cost. In consideration of a more seamless user experience, better security, better performance and longer battery life, companies like Apple have dropped support for most of these plugins entirely on their mobile devices, so that much of the media-rich Internet became inaccessible on iPads and iPhones with other platforms like Android (It is rumored that even Adobe, the owner of the Flash platform, may eventually drop support.)

HTML5 allows many new features to become available as a protocol standard, and streamlines processing in order to render these CPU-intensive (power hogging) add-ons unnecessary for many common functions. Many content providers have already made the switch to using pure HTML5 goodness, which means you won’t have to worry about installing yet another plugin just to listen to a song or watch a video. In addition, this is a big deal for platforms that don’t support Flash as this will allow multimedia web content to be accessible (e.g., iPhone, iPad, and other mobile devices).

The main message here is that the movement towards HTML5 marks a huge step towards web standardizationThe whole purpose of HTML5 is to solve the issue of connectivity. There is still much that needs to be determined, like audio and video formats, but there has been a slow, arduous, yet steady progression in that direction.

I understand that abandoning Flash would require a Web redesign, which most certainly can be a costly, time consuming and downright frightening. However, if Flash is  sinking faster than the Titanic (too soon?) businesses (small and medium sized) might be doing themselves a favor in the end by switching to HTML5 as soon as possible. Technology is meant to be progressive and businesses need to progress with it to remain competitive. A company’s website is the crux of its marketing strategy and presence online. Get a designer, get a developer and perhaps use this as an opportunity to create a fresh start.

*Q: I have to admit, programming speak intimidates me, and I know I’m not alone. (Today elementary school students are even learning computer programming—MIT developed a coding language just for kids–wow. What do professionals really need to know about it to stay current, and “future-proof” their careers?
Personally, I don’t support the notion that EVERYONE should learn how to code in order to stay “relevant”. The whole thing about elementary school children learning how to code is a bit of an overkill, I think. First of all children wouldn’t be able to conceptualize the abstract logical components of programming. Their brains may not yet be developed in that sense. What they will typically do in the schools is teach them syntax (the actual “words” of a programming language) but probably little beyond that…unless there’s a 3rd grade genius out there.

In addition, the push to bring programming to schools as a primary subject is misplacing the problem – This assumes that coding is the goal. But it is not. The point of programming is to solve problems. We shouldn’t focus on the code itself but what it can do for us, and how it can help us do things easier. It’s a classic case of putting the method before the problem. But I’m getting off topic….

In the business world, there are still some practical knowledge that working professionals should keep up to date because of the nature of technology. Working professionals should be aware of at least what technologies are used in their products or their industry and really be aware of what they are used for and how they work. However, technology changes industries in very unpredictable ways and even more now than ever, companies are competing on a massively accelerated scale. This makes it difficult for the average employee to keep up-to-date on the latest tech trends.

Instead, I suggest that we spend our time learning how to do better research in order to understand how the things around us work at a fundamental level – in addition to communicating effectively with other human beings. For business owners, this should mean understanding how they leverage technology to better their business. Technology should be enabling businesses to do more, to be more. It shouldn’t be an isolating barrier. Having this foundation of knowledge can allow you to consider and weigh all your business options in a well informed manner.

Most of all, the general populace (and especially its political leadership) would certainly benefit from a basic understanding of how computers, the Internet, and software work. I guess I can support learning a bit about programming just for the purpose of recognizing what code is, but the focus should be determining what problems exist and fully understanding their extent. Navigating the vast digital space that is the Internet and using web software is becoming a basic life skill. I say we should be worried about fixing that first and foremost, before we start digging all the way into the code.

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