Flash developers don't know the web.
Wow, that's a sweeping statement! Care to prove me wrong?
Here's a quick quiz:
- Do you know what a mashup is?
- Have you ever created a mashup?
- Do you know CSS?
- Do you use webmail?
- How many social networking sites are you on?
- How many web applications do you use on a daily basis?
- Do you subscribe to RSS feeds?
- Do you use SWF Object or UFO?
- If you answered yes to the question above, do you know why you use SWF Object or UFO?
- Do you blog?
So where did all this come from?
Initially, it came with a realization a few years ago that I didn't really know the web. This was a direct consequence of my not actually using the web for anything other than publishing my Flash applications. All right, I've been blogging since time eternal but apart from that, until relatively recently, I hadn't been using many web applications on a daily basis. Today, I do all my email through Google Mail (which has its limitations, believe me, but which I mostly enjoy), use Google Docs, Twitter like a parakeet, check for events on Upcoming, post my photos to Flickr and even visit Facebook quite regularly (and, no, I still haven't warmed up to LinkedIn but at least I respond to my friend requests somewhat promptly these days!)
So I've started using the web -- have you? And how are you supposed to know something if you don't use it?
It sometimes feels like the Flash community isn't on top of the changes that are taking place in the greater web. It took months for Flashers to start adding themselves to Twitter, for example (and I wasn't a very early adopter myself!) It's almost as if we're a little too preoccupied with our own little (ok, growing) world to see what else is happening around us. This is, admittedly, an easy enough position to find yourself in given how fast the Flash platform is currently expanding. However, excuses aside, we have a lot to learn from non-Flash developers and it's a good idea to keep a finger on the pulse of the greater web.
Just this week, at the Flash Brighton meeting, I asked a room of Flash developers and designers how many of them had created a mashup. The number of hands raised was the sum total of none.
If nothing else, this strengthens my belief that working with data in Flash has to be made easier. I know that SWX is going to play an important role in lowering the barrier of entry to creating data-driven Flash applications in general and mashups in particular. To get more Flash developers to experiment with building mashups, I will be adding SWX APIs of popular web services (e.g., Flickr, etc.) to the official SWX gateway on swxformat.org. The first of these is the SWX Twitter API.
The SWX Twitter API makes it easy for Flash developers to create Twitter mashups. You can play with the API methods in the online Service Browser to get a feel for it before you even start building your Flash application. Also see this more detailed post on the SWX Twitter API that I blogged earlier.
The next release of SWX is also going to have a new high-level ActionScript API (this is already functional in SVN if you want to check out the latest trunk. Look at the samples that have _full_api at the ends of their names for usage examples).
The high-level ActionScript API makes it even easier to build Flash apps with SWX by providing a very easy interface for handling loading, returned results, displaying progress and handing timeouts.
I do hope that more Flash developers foray beyond the borders of the Flash world and start both using and remixing the web. I strongly encourage you to start playing with APIs and creating mashups. There's a wealth of data out there that you can remix, visualize and otherwise have fun with.
Ready to broaden your horizons? Here are a few suggestions to start you off:
- Add a few non-Flash bloggers to your RSS feed. I can personally recommend my friends Jeremy Keith, Andy Budd, Mike Davies, Tom Morris, Thomas Vanderwal, Drew Mclellan, Christian Heilman, Molly Holzschlag, Richard Rutter. I know I've learned heaps from all of them and you can too! Also follow those rare Flashers like Mario Klingemann whose work spans the interest areas of both camps.
- Get involved! Attend free events like Hack Day and BarCamp, WSG meetings (WSG London meetings), . If there isn't one in your area, organize one!
- Attend non-Flash conferences like d.construct and SXSW.There are many non-Flash conferences out there where you will find open-minded non-Flashers to welcome you. You will probably encounter prejudices against Flash (some of them rooted firmly in the distant past) but most people are open-minded enough to hear you out if you know what you're talking about and can explain to them where Flash is today and which direction it is heading in.
- Sign up for web applications like Flickr, Google Mail, Upcoming, Google Docs, Facebook, and Twitter. Play around with them. In other words, use the web! If nothing else, you'll see how others tackle the same challenges we face using different technologies. You may also find opportunities for improving those experiences using Flash.