Are You Ready for a Flash-Free Future?

How HTML 5 and Open Video Will Deliver a Faster, Plug-in Free Internet

By Published on .

Garrick Schmitt
Garrick Schmitt

Regardless of how fast our internet connections get, it still seems that we're perpetually waiting for our digital media -- websites, videos, pictures, music -- to load. It's a twisted feedback loop: faster broadband begets bigger and bigger file sizes. All of which makes accessing that Flash-heavy product microsite a perpetual exercise in patience.

It wasn't supposed to work out this way. The migration from dial-up to broadband promised instantaneous access to the web. So much so that earlier this year the preloader -- that ubiquitous status message and animation that plays before a site loads -- looked on its way to becoming extinct and was given its own museum, PrettyLoaded.

But fans of the preloader should fear not. Peruse most recent Favourite Website Awards' (FWA) sites-of-the-day and you will still find your self waiting -- whether you are surfing on a T1, cable connection or middling DSL line. Funny how we still as an industry haven't recognized that speed is the killer app of the internet era.

How much does speed matter online? Ask Google's Marisa Mayer who recently released findings that a page-load delay of 400 milliseconds -- about the blink of an eye -- can drive down usage. That fraction of a delay translated to a 1% reduction in Google's search query volume and millions of dollars in lost revenue. Imagine what a load time of 7 to 8 seconds could mean for the usage of a marketer's Flash-enabled microsite?

HTML 5 and Open Video just may be the technologies that we've been waiting for to deliver a faster and more open internet.

IO 9Elements HTML 5 Canvas Experiment
IO 9Elements HTML 5 Canvas Experiment
HTML 5, the next major revision to the 4.01 standard, is geared specifically to support rich web applications (e.g. Google Docs) built with JavaScript. And open video platforms, such as Ogg Theora, will enable content creators to embed video and audio files on the web just like HTML text or images today. Moreover, you'll be able to easily edit, crop, tag and remix those same videos. And none of this will require plug-ins from Adobe (Flash), Microsoft (Silverlight) or Sun (JavaFX).

These new coding standards (which won't formally be ratified by the W3C for quite some time) are getting early support from Mozilla's latest Firefox browser 3.5, Google's Chrome, Opera and Apple's Safari 4 -- and enabling a host of new, faster web experiences. Here's a taste:

  • IO 9Elements HTML 5 Canvas Experiment
    The German digital shop 9Elements has created one of the most impressive HTML 5 demos so far. The experiment loads 100 tweets related to HTML 5 (natch!) and displays them using a javascript-based particle engine. Employing audio and motion, the demo enables users to click on a dot or "particle" and read/link to the associate tweet. It takes data visualization to a whole new level.
  • Choose Your Own HTML 5 Adventure
    This site boasts the mother lode of HTML 5 demos, which were put together for Google's I/O '09 Developer Conference. The most impressive include Geolocation: Google Maps, which enables geotracking (and certainly targeting, in the future) through the browser; YouTube HTML 5, which demos the open player; Canvas: Drawing Board, which allows for user generated scribbling and Canvas: 1st-Person Gifter which allows for navigation in a virtual environment. Most impressively Workers: Motion Tracker actually pairs a video with a JavaScript-powered application.
  • Chrome Experiments
    Created by the Google Chrome browser team to tout the benefits of JavaScript (and Chrome) these demos were created using open standards like HTML 5, Canvas and SVG. There are about 50 experiments in total ranging from games to voice-generated interactions to 3D animation -- all delivered surprisingly quickly and with impressive fidelity in the browser.

  • Daily Motion's Open Video Demo
    One of the best examples of Open Video, Daily Motion's HTML 5 Video Demo Player eschews Flash for the new HTML 5 video tag. The video is seamlessly integrated into the code of the page, and users are able to rotate, pop a preview player, skin and even add effects to the video itself. Daily Motion has gone one-step further in supporting the standard and released a "Pre Beta" site that features all open video content.

There are a host of other, smaller noteworthy demos worth checking out as well. Paul Roget's Dynamic Content Injection is a nifty way to see how video can start to be played with in code form and Remy Sharp's Drag and Drop and Drag Anything are both quite nice too.

Of course, we are in the very early days of HTML 5 and Open Video. Some believe that we won't see widespread adoption of HTML 5 until 2012 and the W3C won't officially ratify it until, maybe, 2020(!). But those estimates seem far too conservative. Much progress has already been made and nothing needs to be made official before HTML 5 is widely adopted and supported.

More tellingly, HTML 5 may gain quicker traction on mobile devices. Today's Apple's iPhone and Google's Android OS are now supporting HTML 5, not Flash. In fact, some of the demos highlighted earlier currently work on the iPhone today. In the not too distant future publishers will most likely opt to create mobile sites in HTML 5 to deliver rich experiences on mobile browsers (ala today's web) -- versus developing and supporting variations of apps across a range of handsets and platforms.

For marketers, content creators and developers, moving to HTML 5 and Open Video sooner than later makes good sense. The technology will allow digital experiences to be delivered more quickly, shared more widely and discovered more freely almost instantly. And with Google sounding a call to arms with its "Let's Make The Web Faster" campaign it's not hard to imagine a future where we'll flip through web pages, apps and rich media as quickly and easily as we turn pages in a magazine or flip channels on our television.

Garrick Schmitt is group VP-experience planning at Razorfish and the agency's global lead for User Experience. He publishes FEED, Razorfish's annual consumer experience report and in his spare time flails about on Twitter @gschmitt.
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