Flash Will Eat My Scholarship: Plans for Disappearing Technologies?

When I first started trying to produce digital texts, I didn’t really have scholarship in mind. I produced mostly digital stories and websites. I considered them ephemeral, and I just assumed that I would to keep updating them as technologies emerged. I also assumed that at some point, they’d fade away into irrelevance. I was fine with that. For two reasons.

First, for at least the last several years, I’ve tried to focus primarily on “being” right now. Of course, that means something a bit different to everyone, but for me it meant that I needed to let go of some things from the past, and I needed to move some of my future-focus to the present. That’s done me a lot of good. But this isn’t a navel-gazing, personal reflection blog (maybe), so I’ll get to the point.

The second reason I didn’t really reflect on the inevitable obsolescence of my texts is that I really like redesign work. That’s one of the reasons I like blog design so much, and why this one tends to change so often.

But digital scholarship doesn’t really lend itself to this sort of attitude. And that worries the heck out of me. Anxious, anxious. In general, I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone that the technologies we use to access today’s texts will look a lot different in 10 years. And the access technologies we employ ten years from now likely don’t exist yet. (…)

I’ve been listening to podcasts lately from the SitePoint Podcast. In Episode #44 at about 32:30), the hosts discuss at length the inevitable trouble on the horizon for Flash on the Web and in digital texts. It’s a pretty accessible, non-techy discussion, so I encourage you to go listen. For the sake of this entry, I’ll just say that because Flash isn’t as “open” a technology as other, less-polished technologies, the reliability of its presence and function in the future is almost entirely tied to the activities of a corporation. If the go bankrupt, get sold, or if the current iteration of Flash becomes unprofitable to maintain, texts employing Flash could be in real trouble.

Later, in Episode #47, the hosts think through some of the potential implications of the fact that the iPad doesn’t render Flash at all. I leave the details for the experts to discuss, but the gist of the conversation is about what might have motivated Apple to not support Flash in Safari. Sure, it might have been a business move to position Apple and Adobe in a new relationship to each other, but more likely, the decision has to do with the approach of HTML5 which will (very likely) accommodate video content on the web without the necessity of a proprietary plug-in (Flash Player, RealPlayer, Widows Media Player, etc.). Actually, it will accomodate video content without plug-ins at all. This isn’t really a huge deal for texts designed with Flash content which plays merely as a video. Those can be converted relatively easily to h.264, and run without any trouble. But what of texts that use Flash as an interactive navigational interface? I’ve been trying to follow up on this, but I haven’t had any luck finding podcasts or blogposts with people talking about what might happen to these texts (which already can’t be navigated via iPhone or iPad).

I’m extremely concerned about this because I, personally, have invested tons of time into designing an interface for an edited collection of multimedia rhet/comp scholarship (co-editors: Debra Journet, Cheryl Ball = amazing). We’ve design the interface to be incredibly customizable and interactive. And based on Flash programming. Hmm. Worrisome.

I have another couple of posts to write about some potentially productive way to consider and respond to these issues. Those are on their way. But…

Here are my questions for the readers (and I know some of you prefer to email me directly; that’s fine):

Can anyone provide a link or reference to material that might help me think through this conundrum?

Has anyone else already been working on design-technology responses to these sorts of questions?