Web plug-in puts Flash control into users' hands

Back in the dark mists of internet history (around 5 years or so), there was a rush to making websites more animated in an attempt to impress customers....

Back in the dark mists of internet history (around 5 years or so), there was a rush to making websites more animated in an attempt to impress customers. One of the main ways for organisations to do this was to use Macromedia Flash and many sites acquired Flash front ends that pushed prospects and customers away in droves.

These Flash front ends were pasted onto existing static websites and, pretty soon, organisations started to put a "Skip intro" button alongside these expensive, snazzy bits of branding. The use of Flash fell away as many found the "Skip intro" button was being hit before the Flash animation had time to start shaking its booty.

Then, web bureaux and clever in-house web teams found Flash needn't be just for front ends. It could be used to make whole websites more immersive and could, if used judiciously, be very attractive to the customer.

However, Flash website creation was not an easy task and, although pretty, were outside the consideration of those who wanted a site that could be easily changed to reflect market forces. Therefore, retail found Flash alluring, but constraining.

In those early days, most websites were either very simple, managed with the likes of Microsoft Publisher, or were a little more complex, managed with the likes of Macromedia DreamWeaver. But, as organisations wanted more control, the concept of a content management system (CMS) came about. Most CMS systems concentrated on managing the publishing of text and simple graphics from the creator within the organisation directly to the website itself. The vast majority of CMS systems therefore countered against the use of Flash except as discrete objects that could be dropped into websites, such as adverts or animations.

The options were to be Flash with slow market response, or fast and boring.

Along comes 10CMS, a company that specialises in providing the means for managing Flash within a user's website. 10CMS, an Irish company, does not try to replace existing CMS systems, but bolts on to manage the Flash content. Taking Flash assets, it then "dumbs down" the interface while beefing up the options, enabling those used to dealing with web content within existing CMSs to create hot spots, pop ups, Flash composites and so on without needing any knowledge of Flash itself.

As an example, for those in the furniture retail sector, this means that a Flash animation of a living room can have user-assigned roll-over hot spots that can then bring up descriptions and prices of sofas, lamps, tables and so on as the customer rolls the cursor around. Should the furniture retailer's sale finish, the following day's new sale can be easily set up with new pricing and so on - without the need to go to the hosting web company or a bunch of hyper techies to re-write everything from scratch. Extra items can be added, new animations included - the user gains a lot of options.

But, since Adobe took over Macromedia, a few issues have crept in. Firstly, Flash is only one part of the overall offering - there is now Flex and Air. Also, Adobe is no longer the only player on the radar. The battle for the rich internet application (RIA) is on, and Microsoft has decided this is an area it wants to fight for. Microsoft's Silverlight environment has been broadly accepted and, while trailing the functionality of Adobe's solutions, it is making inroads in the RIA development community.

However, 10CMS does not see any of this as a problem. The stated aim of the company is to be the management tool of choice for rich media content and it plans to cover whatever rich media content comes along. While it focuses Adobe, bringing on Flex and support for Air, Microsoft is certainly not off its radar.

For those looking at bringing rich media into their web environments, then 10CMS could be a good way forward. Without needing to throw out existing web CMS systems, such a plug-in could give the flexibility required, while still leaving control in the users' hands, rather than the techies.

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