Consequences of the trend toward a richer web

This post is a response to a recent ZDNet article– folks have recently been talking about HTML 5CSS 3 and JavaScript 2 (Web Trek: The Next Generation) “killing” Flash. I agree that what we call “rich media” today will be incorporated into these web technologies tomorrow, such as browser-based audio and video. I believe that this will continue for as long as our culture can refine its expectations of “rich media”. But this is not the same as killing Flash.

Flash exists because it can deliver an experience today that cannot be delivered with standard web technologies. If the standard web expands on what it can deliver (and it will), then so will Flash (and it will!). Audio, video and simple animation may soon be HTML based, but it will take longer for the HTML standard to implement 3D graphics, sound manipulation and pixel shading. There will always be a richer experience than HTML, and Flash will exist for as long as it can deliver that experience.

And another thing! Say the committee in charge of JavaScript puts together a draft for a standard system for in-browser audio manipulation, as mentioned above. With today’s way of going about things, that system would need to be separately implemented in each web browser on the market, wouldn’t it? So a future justification to choose one browser over another may be that the one has better sound manipulation than the other. But the reverse may be true for some other element of the user’s web experience, like 3D graphics.

Browser wars are good, I think– the competition keeps the browsers relatively fast and bug-free. But on how many fronts can you fight a war? Would we tolerate a browser war where 3D graphics aficionados swarm to one contender, while audiophiles follow another, with no middle ground? And what if something goes wrong, again, and we end up with substantially different variations on the standard implementation?

“Welcome to my site! Requires Internet Explorer, or your ears will pop.” Not pretty.

It would be better, in this future scenario, for browsers to support plugins that specialize in a part of the experience and compete with one another in that niche. That way, browsers can compete against other browsers, while sound plugins can compete against other sound plugins and 3D plugins can compete against other 3D plugins.

I’m calling it right here: The future web will be delivered by a mash-up of third party plugins that each deliver their little part of the whole enchilada. And there will always be plugins that deliver something not presently standardized (the role Flash has had for the past thirteen years), because somebody somewhere will always be thinking ahead of the curve.

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