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by Jay Fienberg

Flash: sometimes you (we) need to get to know your inner text

posted: Sep 18, 2003 3:02:59 PM

Marc Canter posted a response, Living depending upon plug-ins, to my previous post Marc's blogroll / Laszlo OPML viewer. I started writing what follows as a comment on his site, but thought it was too long and would be better here.

This is a mostly my trying to clarify that I don't think the issue is whether or not most people have Flash (or any particular browser plugin), but about the web's "loss" of text embedded in Flash (and other plugged-in document formats).

In general, I think it is important, if you are conveying something on the web that is textual content (like a blogroll's list of links), that you should make it accessible to machines and humans as text (which I personally interpret to mean as being inclusive of HTML / XML text).

I like to think of this text version as at least an index--or, like the credits to a movie. It shouldn't replace the movie, but it is useful to supplement it. No matter how interesting a movie is, some people (and many machines) really want to see the credits.

To me, the "full experience" of a movie generally includes the credits and potenially other cross-references outside the movie itself. It isn't always that way—some visual works are best without textual decorations or with the text always integrated with the visual (think poster art, or, as an aural example, some songs lyrics that aren't interesting poetry outside of the song).

But, some text is really the kind of text that one might want to cite (or quote) or otherwise process as text. One might want to make it accessible as such text.

So, with Marc's Laszlo rendered OPML, I personally think it would be nice to have an alternative layer or link to a text (HTML / XML) version of the Laszlo displayed list. Marc does have a link to an OPML file on his site, and my point is perhaps overstated other than as a usability issue—like maybe it would be good for the Laszlo interface and the textual link to the OPML file to be next to and in relationship with each other.

A nice web asthetic / usability approach is to degrade gracefully, so if a plugin is absent, displaying an alternative text version is nice. This is a separate issue, but the main reason I suggest it is because I think it might be useful to think about some of these situations not as either / or (either you have the plugin or you don't) but as complimentary (here is my OPML file and here is a cool viewer for it).

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