Why We Went with Flash

So we’ve rolled out our brand new video player– Flash, no multiple formats, only one plug-in required for most browsers, interface and controls that have been made de facto standards by a certain popular video site – and we’ve rolled right into the latest technology firefight, encapsulated by this comment from a discerning NASA.gov user:

“Why are you wasting time on Flash? HTML5 is the coming thing and makes any plug-in unnecessary. Plus your Flash player won’t work on my iPhone or iPad.” – Steve Jobs

No, not really. But it’s a valid thought, and the response has to do with how we work around here, sometimes by choice, but most times by necessity.

We’ve been working on the Flash video system for some time, because we’re as tired as everyone else of dealing with multiple formats to cover all major platforms. As YouTube has demonstrated, Flash is a great format for getting video across platforms with a minimum of hassle for the user.

I realize no one wants to hear about limited staff or budgets, but the reality of our world is that our staffing at NASA HQ (3 editors and 3 multimedia developers) and rigid budget always puts development on the back burner relative to daily operations. Between shuttle missions, high-profile anniversaries and fundamental shifts in U.S. national space policy, we haven’t had a lot of time recently to work on new things.

And as we just as we shift to Flash, the technology is already moving beyond it. That’s not surprising. In fact, I’d argue that’s exactly the way it should be. As a government web site, we spend taxpayer dollars. The best use of that money is to spend it on making our content available to the widest number of people, and that means developing to more widespread – i.e., older — technology.

The biggest problem with HTML5 is that it’s not a seamless presentation on all browsers yet, including IE, which is still about half the global market. Flash penetration, meanwhile, is about 97 percent of better, according to Adobe. For web video, Flash, regardless of its shortcomings and critics, is the de facto standard. HTML5 may well get there, and when it does, so will we. At which time its current advocates will be pillorying us for not keeping up with whatever they’re enjoying then. (I think this is what Elton John once referred to as “The Circle of Life”.)

8 thoughts on “Why We Went with Flash”

  1. “…Flash is a great format for getting video across platforms with a minimum of hassle for the user…”

    Hmmmm… I have a ppc mac running linux – so much for me viewing any videos on the NASA site. thanks for supporting Adobe rather than me.

  2. Jobs is pushing HTML 5 to support Apple’s own goals and because the generally accepted fact is that mobile devices don’t have the power needed to support Flash.

    There are times when you simply have to support,as you said, the largest number of users possible. You cannot ALWAYS support EVERYONE. So just as 50% or more of the browser market is still IE, and Windows PCs are still the main way people connect to and use the Internet, those who fall outside the main group must bear some pain.

    A market-based alternative would be to allow the smaller groups, like the previous Mac-linux poster, to pay the proportional cost of creating the movies for his required use. If there are 1,000,000 PC users and 1,000 Mac-linux users, then the PC users could and should pay 1000x less to access the movies than the mac-linux users, since the cost would be supposedly divided among many more users.

    Hopefully, when and if HTML5 shows up on the majority web sites, the demand will help generate the resources needed to provide the movies in that format.

  3. In the end, we have to be as broad-based as possible and we have to account for the fact that most of our target audiences — the general public, K-12 students and teachers, and the news media — want our site to be plug-and-play. So we will favor technologies that have been widely enough adopted that they are effectively out of the box for most users. I’m sure when H.264 video and HTML 5 get to that point, we’ll move in that direction.

  4. Dear NASA,

    I am afraid I have to agree with the other comments in that you should have used a platform-independent video format.
    Nonetheless, keep up the good work!

    Kind regards,


  5. Why not provide links and other options for all users? If a user doesn’t have flash, we should provide a separate link to another video format for those users as well. Afterall, NASA is supposed to be on the cutting edge of technology. Less than three months in, Apple has sold three million iPads. That’s 3 million customers we can’t reach. We are here to serve our Stakeholders, no matter which device they decide to purchase and many NASA employees are using the iPhone as well.

    The debate about the technology and its place in the mobile device industry has been publicly aired and debated. A memo posted by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, said the Adobe technology “falls short” in a mobile era that’s all about “low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards. Flash uses a lot of power, and reduces the battery life. NASA advocates and supports “Green Technology”, right?

    Like I said before, NASA is supposed to be on the cutting edge of technology and we should find a way to serve ALL of our taxpayers, customers, and stakeholders!

  6. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful and beneficial to your readers.


  7. Why don’t you use youtube to serve your content? Don’t they support both flash and html5? The youtube player works well, why did you write your own? If you want to save money, don’t rewrite the wheel. Do what you do best, space stuff, not video players. And why have all the infrastructure to serve the video, use youtube as your CDN.

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