November 04, 2019

Flash Gordon and the Ministry of Truth

Actually it's just Flash and the Ministry of Truth.
And to be honest any resemblance to the MoT is pure speculation on my part.
So were going to blame* Pixy for the stupid post title because he used a Flash Gordon pun when he linked to this post over at the Google Dev blog boasting about how they are going to put Flash (the animation program, not the planet hopping baseball player) to bed. For some reason the anonymous Hangul-proficient blogger is smug about it.

IT and cybersecurity are not at all in my wheelhouse, but I understand that there are some security issues with Macromedia Flash, so there might be some technical justification for this decision. However no such reason is mentioned anywhere in this announcement. There is this though...

  Flash was the answer to the boring static web, with rich animations, media, and actions. It was a prolific technology that inspired many new content creators on the web. It was everywhere. The Flash runtime, which plays Flash content, was installed 500 million times in the second half of 2013.  I still remember my son playing endless number of Flash games until my wife yelled at him. It's time to go to bed, son. Hey Flash, it's your turn to go to bed. 

It goes on to mention that anything using flash will no longer be visible via Google Search and they seem inordinately pleased with themselves about this loss of functionality, so much so that it got me to thinking about "chocolate rations" and since NO technical reason was given I find myself focusing on what they did say seems to make little sense. Let's review: "Flash YAY! Wonderful tool Yay!" We're cancelling it! Yaaaay! Oh, and we're totally your momma." Or further contexualized and simplified..."Derp!"

So now we've got to read between the lines, which is always fraught.

We see them note that Flash opened up the web and was intimately associated with an era of intense creativity, However,  sifting through the white pixels we note that what is not said is that this growth was driven by amateurs and people who came from the outside who were generally un-credentialed but talented and brought about a vast and disruptive age of change that Google is now trying to tamp down on.

There are a lot of Flash games and a lot of sites still use flash, some of them quite worthy ones. These will soon be lost, at least to those who don't maintain specific browsers. However, the Flash games are not done by the big companies, and the use of flash is a hallmark of an earlier era, one characterized above all by irreverence and freedom that Google/Alphabet would very much like to close the door on. The sorts of sites that use Flash, and the sorts of ideas presented in many of those animations are the sorts of knowledge that Google and their ilk would just as soon purge, if they make those sites unsearchable, they will have done so.

Now. It is important to appreciate, or at least assume that people one disagrees with do not, as a rule, share their motivations with Snidely Whiplash, or some Captain Planet villain sitting in their headquarters cackling that "Today..I will be EEEEVIL!" However, I find it hard nowadays, at least with with Google, to not ascribe their actions to malice.


There are IT people who frequent this site.

Please explain in small words to this Bachelor of History why Google's decision is a solid one from an IT perspective and does not actually serve to erase a big swath of knowledge and history from the 'net. For bonus points explain why what appeared to be sadistic and patronizing glee is justified and appropriate.

*Note: This does not constitute any actual evidence of causation or responsibility on the part of Pixy Misa. Pixy is merely being blamed.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 03:47 PM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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1 This list of identified security vulnerabilities in Flash goes to 22 pages.  And it was very much a case where patching one vulnerability created two more.  Flash by it's very nature was never going to be secure, it provided a level of execution that requires lots of security attention, and it was written before people gave security more than a passing thought.

Flash games were so prolific because they weren't terribly hard to write, and you could practically guarantee that the flash player would be installed on your potential user's machine.  But the target environment is much more fragmented now with the various mobile platforms, and it's not honestly much harder to write a trivial flash-level game HTML5.  But the much juicier fruit of a full ios/android game is just one small step up, so many of the people who might have churned out a dozen simple flash apps in the past now go work on a single mobile game instead.
But of course the apple store and google store won't publish a lot of the stuff that got distributed as a simple flash file in the past.

Posted by: David at Mon Nov 4 16:48:15 2019 (A/T0R)

2 The carnage of old flashes is sad, but it's nothing compared to old apps (remember Barcode Kanojo)? And frankly no price is too high for getting rid of Flash.
I told Steven about it when he used Flash for the banner rotation at Chizumatic. Now we're just going to differ in opinion about it, forever.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at Mon Nov 4 17:01:56 2019 (LZ7Bg)

3 Parsing his words, I see:

1) Flash is disabled by default in Chrome (and pretty much everywhere else these days; much like Java web apps, for most people it simply doesn't work any more).

2) Web pages containing Flash content will continue to be indexed, but the contents of the Flash files will not.

3) Direct links to Flash SWF files will not be indexed at all. (so if a site is Flash-only with no fallback to HTML, it will effectively disappear)

Putting that together, it looks like online archives containing Flash content will continue to work and be indexed based on what's in the HTML, so you'll still be able to find and play Nanaca Crash, for instance. What's missing from the blog post is the actual impact, X sites and Y SWF files, searched for by N people (with Z instances of malware available); that's information someone plugged into Google could easily have presented, as a trend over time, but left out because it likely doesn't support the claim that this change is useful and meaningful.


Posted by: J Greely at Mon Nov 4 17:21:35 2019 (ZlYZd)

4 There's a ton of flash animation content on DeviantArt that will die.

Posted by: Mauser at Mon Nov 4 22:48:01 2019 (Ix1l6)

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