Cool Flash Widget at the Economist (How far behind is Mitt Romney?)

Sometimes I get so caught up in Flash video that I forget that Flash does many other things, from serving as the environment for the WeVideo editor to enabling sites like the Economist to present interactive data relating to the upcoming presidential election. If you visit the Economist, you can click each state to see the latest poll figures for the various Republican candidates and click Show Calendar to view the dates for that state's primary election.

economist.PNG

I'm guessing that you could build a similar widget with HTML5, but the tools probably aren't as advanced as Flash development tools, and you'd have to do Flash anyway, since HTML5 penetration is still under 60%. The bottom line is that though HTML5 is making significant headway in simple video playback in a window, Flash does a whole lot more than just that. And it isn't going away anytime soon.


Comments (8)

Fred Neilson
Said this on 12-16-2011 At 10:11 pm

There's no need to guess. Interactive charts and maps are easily achieved with HTML. There are numerous tools and libraries available under open source and commercial licenses and plenty of working examples to help you use them. For example, visualisation options include:

Protovis: http://mbostock.github.com/protovis/
Raphael: http://raphaeljs.com/
Highcharts: http://www.highcharts.com/
Flot: http://code.google.com/p/flot/
jqPlot: http://www.jqplot.com/
jQuery Sparklines for sparklines: http://omnipotent.net/jquery.sparkline/


Here's an interactive map of the US made by some guy called Rob Flaherty using Raphel:

https://github.com/robflaherty/us-map-raphael
http://www.ravelrumba.com/code/demos/us-map-raphae...


Here's an interactive map of the US made by some guy called DougX:

http://dougx.net/map/usmap.html


DougX's interactive map has been used to make this electoral map for the 2012 presidential race:

http://electoralmap.net/2012/myPrediction.php


Flash doesn't offer much here.

Said this on 12-16-2011 At 11:06 pm
Fred:

Thanks for the post and examples. Did a quick google search for interactive electoral map (no quotes). Here are the top 2 pages of sites listed that actually presented an interactive electoral map (there were a couple of sites listing PHP map building tools, but no actual users of those technologies on the first two pages).

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/maps/obama... - Flash
http://www.270towin.com/ - Flash
http://www.mockelection.org/electionmap/ - Flash
http://scoreboard.dailykos.com/ - Flash
http://www.politico.com/2010/maps/ - Flash
http://oaktree2.cbsnews.com/election2010/ - Flash
http://www.latimes.com/election-test-fl,0,2956736.... - Flash
http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008... - Flash
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/polit... - Flash
http://www.harcourtschool.com/activity/electoral/ - Flash
http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/calculator/ - Flash
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/vote2004/politics101/p... - Flash
http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/macedonia-... - Flash
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/americas/04/... - Flash

I'm not a programmer, and honestly couldn't tell you if or why Flash is better in these applications. I can only guess that if high profile sites like those listed above use Flash over other alternatives, they must have a good reason.

Thanks again for your post.

Jan
Fred Neilson
Said this on 12-17-2011 At 04:44 am

I am a programmer and I can tell you there's no compelling reason to use Flash for this use case. Some of the examples you linked to are from 2004. Using Flash for this sort of thing made more sense then. Firefox 1.0 wasn't even released until November of 2004. Rather than being a Flash showcase this is more an example of The Economist just going with what they know, which is a shame. They could have built the same thing with support across more browser and device configurations (Raphael and Highcharts support back to Internet Explorer 6) and with zero plugin dependencies. 

Said this on 12-17-2011 At 10:00 am

To be clear, the charts I referred to were those interactive charts that appeared in the first two pages of the Google search. Some were old, some very current. But they were the first sites that appeared - I didn't cherry pick.

If the case for abandoning Flash was as compelling as you say, either because using Flash was so negative or other technologies so positive, you would assume that more high profile sites would have switched. I've done the initial round of research, why don't you do yours. Hunt out the current electoral charts used by the sites in my survey and see if they're still using Flash or if they've switched. That would be a whole lot more convincing that "I am a programmer and I can tell you that there's no compelling reason to use Flash in this use case." Don't blithely ignore the reality that if you can re-use something that's already built, it's a compelling reason to use it.

The most compelling use case against Flash is lack of support in iOS tablets. According to www.riastats.com, 80% of Android devices have Flash, though Adobe won't develop any further after the current player, so that obviously will drop going forward. Web sites can deal with this in two ways, creating separate charts for desktop/tablet, or going all HTML.

Do the research. If the sites like CNN, PBS, LA Times, WashPost, BBC and Economist create separate charts for the two platforms, this means that they see a compelling reason to use Flash. If they go HTML for all platforms, they don't.

By the way, plug-in dependencies aren't a negative when the plug-in is available on 99% of a particular platform, as it is on desktop computers. Depending upon the Flash plug-in for iOS obviously won't work, for Android, it's probably OK for this election. Tablets are an increasingly important platform, and the big sites know this, and they have smart programmers just like you. So let's see how they deal with this going forward.

But DO THE RESEARCH. This "I"m a programmer and I know better" just doesn't carry much weight with me.

Jan

Fred Neilson
Said this on 12-17-2011 At 10:16 pm

Do what research, exactly? You appear to be attempting to mount an argument based on groupthink without offering any explanation or rationale for the supposed advantage that Flash offers in this particular case. Meanwhile I've demonstrated practical alternatives which are very achievable, particularly because exactly this sort of thing has been done with them before. Raphael even cites interactive maps as an example of what you can do with it (http://raphaeljs.com/australia.html).

Let's not waste any further time with black knight discussions (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RZ-hYPAMFQ). Arthur has crossed that bridge. Argue me a technical basis for Flash being the better choice, if you can. Who knows? Maybe you'll convince me.

Jan
Said this on 12-17-2011 At 10:31 pm
The research clearly directed by my last message. If you don't think mass market usage of a technology is proof of the value of the technology than we just disagree. You going to argue that air is bad for mammals and water bad for fish?

Just a warning. I'm not going to post any more of your messages unless you provide real-world, high-profile examples backing your claims. You state HTML is technically superior, but can't find any sites other than those provided by folks selling the technology?

The research I did took all of about 10 minutes. If you're not willing to find sites that support your claims, I'm not willing to post your comments.

Best.

Jan
Fred Neilson
Said this on 12-22-2011 At 08:45 pm

Oh yawn. You can't argue effectively so you attempt to "win" by way of the threat of control over the forum. Bad form.

Alright, let's do "research". We won't explain anything, we won't understand the whys, we'll just point at websites.

Microsoft endorses Raphael: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ie/archive/2011/12/07/movi...
Evri uses Raphael for its visualisation widgets: http://www.evri.com/ and http://www.evri.com/widgets
Mass Relevance uses Raphael: http://www.massrelevance.com/
And the White House hired Mass Relevance so they must be good: https://twitter.com/#!/RaphaelJS/status/8876262598...
Apple's iCloud uses Raphael: https://www.icloud.com/
The Washington Post uses Raphael: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/polit...
SeatGeek uses Raphael: http://seatgeek.com/

You claimed there were no advanced tools available to do this sort of visualisation without Flash. That is false. You claimed you need an HTML5 browser to do this sort of visualation without Flash. That, too, is false. In addition, and to Flash's detriment, you have acknowledged that the alternative approaches can reach browsers that Flash never will. I can appreciate that you're not a developer and you're out of your depth, but you have offered nothing substantive in support of Flash for this use case. Again, argue me a technical basis for Flash being the better choice. If you can't do that then have the courage to accept that Flash is redundant here.

Said this on 12-22-2011 At 08:54 pm
Good input. Thanks for providing some useful information.

Jan
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