Wednesday, 6 November, 2019 UTC


Google has announced that it will no longer index Flash files.
Journey with me to a time in a faraway internet; a time before we had monetized social media. A time when the page you shared with your friends was your page and not a page on someone’s network. Way back when Visual Basic was what Python is now and JavaScript was a hack mostly used for cool effects. A hero arose. Macromedia Flash opened the gates to the interactive web, and for a chunk of time it consumed more than a decent portion of humanity’s attention and artistic output.
Computer art was growing, but was it public? How many grandmothers would see a demo?
New grounds were paved and anyone who wanted to become an animator or a web designer could manage it in a few tutorials. Only a few years before Flash took off, people had started talking about computers as a source for art in mostly theoretical terms. There were demoscenes, university studies, and professional communities, of course, but were they truly public? Suddenly Flash made computer art an everyday thing. How could computers not be used for art? In schools and offices all over the world people of varying technical skill would get links to games, animation, and clever sites sent by their friends and colleagues.
For 23 years Flash has had this incredible creative legacy. Yet it’s not perfect by any means. It’s a constant headache for our friendly neighborhood super-conglomerates. Apple hates how it drains the battery on their mobile devices, and that it’s a little village outside of their walled garden. Microsoft sees it as another endless security violation. They all saw it as a competitor product eating their proprietary code bases.
Coders and professionals also started to see the light as new technologies came down the line. While many programmers cut their teeth on ActionScript, JavaScript demos and environments grew more impressive each year as the web standards grew to include everything from video streaming to 3D rendering; largely as a direct result of Flash’s influence.
The Tides Began to Shift
For users outside the realm of computer experts it was a confusing time. Suddenly a person’s browser was haranguing them to switch to new media players. It was asking them if they were really sure they wanted to experience their usual content. Many users saw Flash through the lens of fun memories with their friends and simply didn’t understand the deciding factors. For anyone who grew up in this time, Flash was a part of life.
It came and it conquered.
So is it fair for Google to blind itself to Flash? Maybe Google forgets the artistic debt we owe to Flash. Maybe all Google sees is that annoying thing they had to replace on Youtube until their mix of HTML5, Javascript, and trackers could take over.
The truth is, as usual, grey. While there are certainly alternate motivations from the many companies competing in this space, it’s always good science to ask if their stances have any merit alone. The truth is that Flash is an ancient bit of technology that’s been surpassed and replaced by superior ones. It’s proprietary. It’s a security vulnerability. Its encapsulated nature is at odds with the integrated web we have now: where there’s not much seam between JavaScript, web assembly, HTML, and the browser’s engine. Its time has long since passed.
What Does it Mean to Have Free Access to Information?
Yet, we do wonder about the rhetoric Google puts forth. Google’s fundamental premise is a list of algorithmically ranked public web resources. The truth tends to lean towards an advertisement delivery network.  Is it correct for Google to stop indexing a certain type of file just because that file no longer aligns with its internal view on acceptable technologies? An index of information like Google’s is more than a service, it’s a cultural cornerstone.
Goodbye forever.
Years ago Yahoo shut down Geocities without much warning and without much of a plan. In a blink, one of the largest reflections and snapshots of the public mind at the birth of the information era was lost. Many of our Hackaday articles now point to nothing because of this.  Internet archaeologists certainly tried their best to save it, but it was an imperfect rescue.
So the question is, is burning the index to the library of Alexandria just as bad as burning the library itself? Even if that library contains technological stone tablets; will we be left with nothing but cooling memories of an interactive web. A web we’ll never see again? A web which arose at the start of this strange network taking over our collective consciousness. While there is still a server hosting that content for public access, should it not be indexed?