NRA Website Controversy – Opinions of a Flash Developer

A lot of buzz has been going on regarding the new NRA website. Snowflakes in Hell had a pretty scathing post on the topic.

www.nra.com

He laid many criticisms against Flash that I view as rather inaccurate. These included that sites built utilizing Flash could not be indexed by Google, nor content directly linked. He also stated that browser navigational buttons do not function and that there are no accessibility options – just to name a few of Sebastian’s criticisms.

While true with regards to the NRA’s site. Many of these gripes can be resolved with better implementations of Flash. A well executed implementation of a Flash site can actually have content indexed by Google, and offer direct linking of content. Furthermore, Adobe’s Flash does offer a number of accessibility options.

Performance of the site can even be enhanced by breaking up the Flash site into loadable modules. Reducing immediate download times.

So why didn’t the NRA incorporate these features?
Simple…because they didn’t hire me! LOL

On an aside, I did apply for the Flash developer position approx. a year ago.

But being honest here, I do not believe that the core problem with the NRA’s site is the use of Flash. Rather, I believe it is a failure to disseminate their information in a simple manner.

Look at the standard HTML site. It’s really not much better. Ask yourself why the NRA site has links for “Membership Discounts”, “Member Services”, and “Membership” all at it’s top level navigation? This just clutters and confuses the interface.

If I were the NRA I would simplify the entry to the site. Break things down into primary categories (2nd Amendment/Legislative, Hunting, Training, Organization & Membership, & maybe a News area). The navigation should be simple and intuitive. Backed up by a good search tool.

For instance, I ask myself why the Whittington Center is a main link? This should be under the NRA Organization. In which a user might be presented Membership Info and Facilities

When you begin clicking on the various links, you discover that almost everyone brings you to a new and completely separate website. (While some of this may be required by law, I am not sure how all the legal aspects of political contributions, PACs, etc. come into play.) Much of it is just legacy of the years. This is no knock to the NRA. As such is often the case with any large organization.

It is very tough to take dozens of separate sites and integrate them. Not something that happens overnight. Add the internal politics that goes on in any large not-for-profit organization, and it becomes even more daunting. I am sure there are individuals involved in different areas of the NRA organization – and I am equally sure all of them want to be on the organization’s front page. Sadly, this does a great disservice to the reader.

So how would I do things differently?
I would implement a 5+ yr strategy to incorporate all the different sites into a more integrated and uniform delivery. I’d eliminate a great many domain names – where possible. Instead of nrapublications.org, nragive.com, nrahuntersrights.org, etc – I wonder if an intelligent use of sub-domains would not be a more intuitive way to structure the site.

publications.nra.org
donations.nra.org or give.nra.org
hunting.nra.org

But mostly I would try not to overload my reader while at the same time providing a navigation/access point that facilitates their finding the information they are seeking.

Something the present site fails to do on a number of levels. For instance I’d wager one of the things most new shooters are interested in is “training”. Try to find the link for training. In fact, try to guess where to click to get to the category that is traing. Oops, I clicked on “Guns & Hunting” and wound up at “Shooting Illustrated” (wait, isn’t that a publication, shouldn’t that be under “Publications”). Okay, I found “Firearms Training” under search. Now that I have clicked elsewhere the search tool has gone missing. It took me a while before I thought to click on “Explore the NRA”.

So while the new site has a decent search functionality. It has failed to place it prominently, so as to act as a reserve for the users needs.

So why am I saying all of this? Is it to knock the NRA. Not in the least. Rather, I saw a tremendous amount of bashing on the new site. And I felt it was directed more so at a technology rather than an implementation. Furthermore, I wanted to provide constructive criticism.

So if any of my readers viewed any of the above as tearing down the NRA, please know that such is not my intent nor my spirit. And I’ll be the first to say that IT teams seldom have the staffing or resources they need to truly excel.

I interviewed for a position on that team. And all the individuals I encountered were friendly, and good guys. So I am sure they want to provide a good resource for our community. (And if any are reading this post, feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss any thoughts and insights I have on the matter.) As I too simply want to see the NRA provide the best resources it is able.

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Published in: on April 14, 2010 at 5:26 am  Comments (3)  
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  1. Original comment posted in reply at snowflakesinhell, that inspired this post.

    ————–

    I just want to state that many of your gripes are not so much an issue of Flash as an issue to the implementation.

    1. “It does not get NRA message out there. It’s a giant black hole to Google.”

    Actually, Flash sites using SWFOBJECT embed method get indexed quite well.

    http://www.nxtbookmedia.com/why/hybrid-indexed-flash.php

    2. “It’s slow to load.”

    I can concede this one a bit. There are ways they could lessen the load by not incorporating so much, and loading other areas of the site on request.

    3. “It imposes a size on the user”

    Well both the Flash and HTML version suffer such. But minimum sizes have long been a stalwart of the web. So I think it’s more of an issue as to whether the chosen size is the proper minimum for much of their clientele.

    4. “Breaks web usability standards.”

    This is only partially correct. Flash can be enabled to utilize browser navigation buttons. And Flash has a number of accessibility features to facilitate it being read by aloud for the blind. Flash also allows for zooming in/out for those who need larger print. Not sure why it’s not allowed on the NRA site.

    So once again, much of this is just an implementation issue.

    5. “Not linkable.”

    Once again it’s an implementation issue.

    As you will see this link goes to a content area. States and displays can be linked via Flash.

    http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/moaa/mo1009/#/60

    6. “Breaks Mobile Devices.”

    Site does not need to break. Using SWFObject embed methodology, a site can be made to degrade more gracefully when Flash Player is not present.

    http://kevinjmcmahon.net/articles/10/flash-and-gracefully-degrading-navigation/

    ============================================

    I just iterate this in order to show that the problem is not so much the use of Flash but rather the implementation of Flash.

    “Good web design and programming are easier than good Flash programming”

    I’ll grant that statement. Though there are a fair number of benefits that Flash can provide.

    Nor do I view AJAX as a good alternative to Flash’ abilities. having had a lot of issues with heavy AJAX sites (such as Facebook) crashing the browser (particularly Firefox).

    I also believe a site done right, that degrades gracefully can be done entirely in Flash (not just as an addition).

    =============================================

    So what is the real crux of the problem? Information overload…

    Look how much info the NRA has, how many divisions, areas, etc. They’re trying to throw so much at their readers in a single dose that it becomes nigh impossible to be anything but over-whelmed.

    If I were the NRA I would simply my entry to the site. Break things down into primary categories (2nd Amendment, Hunting, Training, Organization & Membership, & maybe a News area).

    Look at the menu. We have “Member Discounts”, “Member Services”, “Membership”. All of these items should be contained in a parent member area.

  2. “I also believe a site done right, that degrades gracefully can be done entirely in Flash (not just as an addition).”

    While you are no doubt right that it can be done right entirely in Flash, I would say that it shouldn’t be done entirely in Flash unless it’s absolutely necessary for delivery of the content (which it very rarely is).

    1. Flash can cause severe slowdowns in a browser or even the whole computer, especially if it’s not done right. This is especially true if someone has 2 or 3 tabs open, all with Flash-heavy or poorly Flashed sites (or ads on those sites). I find myself regularly cursing Pizza Hut for their Flash ads – my browser slows to a crawl every single time one of those comes up on a site. Even if your site is done right, and the Flash is done perfectly, the Flash on someone else’s site open in another tab may interact poorly with yours and cause problems.

    2. Many people simply disable Flash until they specifically want it, because it gets used in so many ads, and often gets used maliciously. Many smart phones, the iPod Touch, and now the iPad don’t have the ability to use Flash. Either you have to design and build a complete second site that doesn’t use Flash, or these people get a stunted, poorly done site that doesn’t deliver your content well. Why not save the effort and design just one site, only using Flash for the content that can’t be delivered without it?

    3. If you don’t make a second site for non-Flash users (just putting up the “You must have Flash enable to view this site” message), most of these people will just say “screw it” and never come back. Many of them will do the same even if it’s just for specific content. Why do something that will drive people away?

    Flash can be a good supplement to a website, but it should not be the whole basis of the website.

  3. “Flash can cause severe slowdowns in a browser or even the whole computer, especially if it’s not done right.”

    No different than AJAX, in fact, I experience more slow downs with AJAX than Flash. And a lot more incompatibilities across browsers.

    “I find myself regularly cursing Pizza Hut for their Flash ads”

    Well, I regularly curse pop-up ads. I think we curse ads regardless of the media. Not because of the technology (HTML or Flash – both are annoying) but because of implementation and invasiveness.

    “Flash on someone else’s site open in another tab may interact poorly with yours and cause problems.”

    While true, I rarely see this happening. And once again see little difference between this and when opening another HTML page which causes one’s browser to freeze or crash.

    “Many people simply disable Flash until they specifically want it, because it gets used in so many ads, and often gets used maliciously”

    And a site that is designed to gracefully degrade will automatically serve up the content in a different format for consumption. A good implementation can provide content to devices such as iPhones, blackberries and TDD machines.

    See you’re still talking about a Flash implementation that doesn’t gracefully degrade. And requires a second distinct site. Where as I am talking about an implementation of a website in which content is served regardless of the device’s implementation.

    “Flash can be a good supplement to a website, but it should not be the whole basis of the website.”

    Actually, it’s quite a good choice if the site is more than just a promotional pamphlet. If you’re incorporating a tremendous amount of application tasks. Than Flash makes a considerable offering.


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