Screenshot from Adobe’s page on the end of support for its Flash Player.

Gone in a Flash

The end of Adobe Flash Player support means challenges in preserving older websites and online games. 

In case you missed it, December 31, 2020, brought the official end of life to the Adobe Flash Player. Web browsers no longer support it, as you may discover when trying to access older sites or applications that may have not been updated. Flash could make websites pop with creativity by incorporating interactivity with audio, video, and animations. Many of these sites were created in the late 1990s and into the 2000s. Popular online video games developed with Flash included FarmVille and the original Alien Hominid.

Flash, though, had its issues with security flaws and stability, not to mention digital archivists had difficulty capturing and replaying Flash sites with traditional web archiving tools. Some companies like Apple decided to block it on its mobile devices. Adobe made the announcement in 2017 that it would stop supporting the Flash Player in late 2020, and HTML 5 became an alternative in many cases.

Even in 2011, the Archives encouraged web developers to include a text-only version as a good preservation practice when there was a Flash site.

Various groups, including the Internet Archive and gaming communities, are exploring ways to save and preserve Flash sites and games. Rhizome, a non-profit organization dedicated to born-digital art, wrote about Flash preservation. Rhizome outlined various tips after hearing from artists concerned about their Flash-based art. Some suggestions include technology such as a Flash emulator, which uses an environment to replicate older technology to access digital content, called Ruffle or Oldweb.Today, which includes an emulator that incorporates Ruffle, or Rhizome’s web archiving service, Conifer. We previously wrote about Oldweb.Today for viewing older Smithsonian websites.

The Smithsonian has some websites with Flash components. The Libraries and Archives is working closely with the National Museum of American History and other museums to preserve these sites. This strategy includes maintaining crawls (captures) done with Archive-It, capturing with Webrecorder and replaying with the Webrecorder Player, and acquiring the web files from the websites themselves. Rhizome was home to Webrecorder until 2019.

Some of these Flash websites will be redone and relaunched. 

Two of the sites with Flash components feature Julia Child’s kitchen and the life and music of the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz. These interactive sites allow the user to navigate within Julia Child’s kitchen and to listen to Celia Cruz’s trademark “¡Azúcar!” sound bite.

The text-only version of the Julia Child site works well, but clicking on the Flash option in various browsers either takes you to a blank page or language about Flash’s end of life. The video of the Flash version archived with Webrecorder presents Child’s voice and lets users click through the kitchen. Oldweb.Today’s Ruffle option does replay some of the Julia Child Flash version, but the kitchen navigation doesn’t work.

The Celia Cruz non-Flash version is a bit finicky, depending on the browser. Firefox has worked best. The Flash-archived version looks like a gatefold album cover that opens up with Cruz saying, “¡Azúcar!.” By clicking on the menu, the user loads the record disc image and dives back into the album with video and images to view.

The good news is that only 2.2 percent of websites are using Flash as of February 2021, according to a W3Techs report. Many of these sites may no longer be active or are in the process of being migrated to newer applications. Fortunately, Adobe released information about Flash Player’s end of life early, but this example still sheds light on the importance of software and the challenges of digital preservation.

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