HTML5 or Flash – Be careful what you ask for…

Ok, I’ll get straight to the point: There is a lot to dislike about many websites right now when it comes to how these websites generate revenue. On many sites it is hard to actually find the content you were seeking due to the huge amount of ads that get displayed. I’ve had my browser crash countless times due to poorly designed ads (generally, it is due to Flash ads, but it certainly can happen with JavaScript as well).

Is Flash a problem? With the way it is currently being used by advertisers, it would be hard to argue that it isn’t. However, HTML5 isn’t the solution. In fact, I think HTML5 will be a bigger problem than Flash ever was.

For a second, lets take a step back and think about the companies pushing for HTML5 adoption. The two that seem to stand out are Google (with YouTube and Chrome) and Apple with Safari and the iPhone. So why exactly are these companies pushing for HTML5? You can think that they just want to help the web move to a better future than the current HTML garbage, but, unfortunately, you can create as much garbage in HTML5 as you could with any previous specification. Also, these are companies that have a duty to their shareholders to maximize profits. Sure, in the short term it may not make much sense to push for HTML5, so the answer has to be something that these companies see down the road.

Well, the main reason why these companies are investing heavily in HTML5 is advertising. Right now, it is pretty simple to block the most annoying ads online by using many of the browser add-ins designed for that purpose. By the most annoying ads, I mean the ones that automatically play sounds when the ad loads, they flash and jiggle all over the screen, they play some video, and they cover up the content you want to see. These ads are almost exclusively written in Flash. The problem is that advertisers want to use such ads, because they are almost guaranteed to get your attention.

So what exactly can an advertiser do to have you watch these ads? Well, in their eyes, Flash is no longer capable of this due to the ad blockers mentioned above. Their solution is HTML5. The concept is pretty simple: if you can’t rely on a plug-in to play your sounds, jiggle the screen, or play video, simply make sure that the page itself is capable of doing so. By integrating the ads using the same HTML tags as the content of the site, it will be impossible for ad blockers to properly function on a web page.

Currently, certain sites set some rules for advertisers to follow, with the hope that users will whitelist their sites on their ad blocker, which in tu rn leads users to see ad impressions and click on the ads. But what happens when sites don’t need to worry about their users using ad blockers? Ads will get much, much more intrusive than they are today. Some sites might resist at first, but ultimately money wins the argument. Unfortunately, the future of the web isn’t looking too pretty, at least when it comes to “free” content online, unless, of course, you are an advertiser 🙂

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