Farewell Flash, Thanks for Powering Our Early Internet Experiences!

Header Image: Farmville, one of the major victims of Flash Player being discontinued.

First introduced to audiences in 1996 when the internet was still in the age of (now) cringe-worthingly slow dial-up speeds, Macromedia (and later, Adobe) Flash Player gave us our first taste of interactive multimedia content on the internet. Throughout the late-90s and 00s, this was a staple of powering meme-worthy content, video games, audiovisual content, and in some cases entire websites. Whether you grew up enjoying the content on Newgrounds, spammed your Facebook wall with notifications from Farmville, or spent hours with friends playing Habbo Hotel – Flash was there powering your experiences.

Flash did have some level of notoriety behind it as the years went on, especially in the 2010s when more security threats and vulnerabilities came to light about Flash. While there remained a wealth of legacy content available for the platform, as the years went on, and we transitioned into the smartphone era, more content began being developed for other platforms such as HTML5. Major services also began transitioning over to alternatives. Another nail in the coffin was that some browsers decided to block some or all flash content from running without manual user intervention. And if a browser is intervening in your access to certain content, most would undoubtedly raise an eyebrow about whether it is safe.

In July 2017, Adobe, who remains active in the industry today with their comprehensive suite of creative tools, announced that they would be ending support for Flash by the end of 2020. As we take our first steps into 2021, that is just what has happened. As of now, Adobe will no longer be supporting their Flash Player software, and as of 12 January 2021, will block all Flash content from running in Flash Player regardless of user intervention.

Open standards such as HTML5, WebGL and WebAssembly have continually matured over the years and serve as viable alternatives for Flash content. Also, major browser vendors are integrating these open standards into their browsers and deprecating most other plug-ins (like Flash Player). 

Farewell Flash, Thanks for Powering Our Early Internet Experiences! 1
Habbo Hotel

Fortunately, many of the major websites had transitioned from Flash well before that announcement. However, there remained a lot of legacy content where a decision would be made – if the developers were still active – whether they would dedicate the resources to porting their project across to another platform, or cease support of it entirely come January 2021. This might not be a bad thing for audiovisual content as, at the very least, someone can post a recorded version on another video sharing platform. On the other hand, things become a bit trickier for game content, and I envision it would have come down to the hard numbers around engagement, popularity and profit.

Some decisions deemed controversial by certain fanbases have been made, most notably Zynga deciding to discontinue Farmville on Facebook after more than a decade on the platform. On the flip slide, services such as Habbo have continued into 2021 by porting their client over to Unity. Depending on how long development took, the game may be fully-featured or require additional development work in 2021. Using an example of Habbo, Sulake published a substantial list of features being either implemented at a later date or depreciated.

Ultimately, as technology continues to develop rapidly, processes and systems that powered the public internet in its earliest days will continue to be depreciated. While much of this will go unnoticed by regular users, sometimes it can profoundly impact content we are nostalgic about. My suggestion… be sure to appreciate the time you have with fantastic content you find on the internet. One day it could be there, and the next it vanishes permanently.

For now though, thank you, Flash, for your service… and for helping deliver amazing content in the first few decades of the public internet.

Founder of The Otaku's Study. I have been exploring this labyrinth of fandom these last fifteen years, and still nowhere close to the exit yet. Probably searching for a long time to come.

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