Small, Specialized Technologies May Beat the Google Giant

This past July, Adobe Systems Inc. announced that they would be working with search engine giants such as Google and Yahoo! to help improve search results of Flash-based Web sites.

Throughout the land of Web developers, a cheer rose up from the crowd.

I was among the masses; excited at the prospect of improving the searchability of the dynamic, visual sites my company creates.

But then reality set in, some limitations with the technology began to surface. For one, Google does not index any images, video or any other non-textual content.

It also fails to execute some types of JavaScript, which most Flash programmers use, and in addition, content from external resources that are loaded by Flash files are not yet be considered by Google to be part of the content in that file.

Unfortunately for Google’s new technology, virtually every professionally made Flash Web site uses JavaScript to load the Flash content, many programmers use JavaScript Flash Player detection and embed scripts like SWFObject, which can detect the Flash plug-in in all major Web browsers and is search-engine friendly.

There’s talk that support for SWFObject will be rolled out by Google in the near future, but in the fast-paced climate of multimedia development, we didn’t have time to wait for the giant to make its next move. So, we forged our own route, using customized solutions and small-run, open-source technologies such as SWFAddress.

We launched a complete redesign and relaunch of our company Web site, delpadre.com, and thus far the results have proven that Google may be a giant, but a shot between the eyes from the little guy can still make an impression.

Site Unseen

The original delpadre.com had served Del Padre Digital well during its lifespan. 65% of our projects in the last decade were secured by clients finding the business online. What’s more, it’s long been a showcase of our firm’s capabilities; a preamble to what could be in store for clients.

The new and improved delpadre.com, which went live on June 1, 2008, is a full Flash site that features a fast loading dynamic project portfolio and full screen video. Perhaps most importantly, it’s also fully indexable by Google and other search engines.

This is due largely to its use of SWFAddress, an open-source developer tool that provides deep linking -- a hyperlink that points to a specific page or image – for Flash and Ajax.

In short, SWFAddress supports the creation of unique, virtual URLs, while offering a platform for a number of capabilities that are missing in many today's Web technologies. Some of its most notable features include bookmarking in a browser or social Web site, sending deep links via e-mail or instant messenger, finding specific content with the major search engines, and utilizing browser history and navigation buttons.

SWFAddress is the first component that ties into SEO, Individual sections of the Flash site can be indexed by Google, and a visitor gets a new address with every new page – allowing them to use the back button while browsing. Prior to SWFAddress, it was common to hit that back button and end up somewhere you didn’t want to be.

The technology is highly adaptable and can be integrated into many aspects of a Web site, including content management systems (CMS), making updates and maintenance easier and quicker.

We adapted the basic implementation of SWFAddress, for example, to allow it to generate new Web site addresses on the fly whenever content is added through the CMS, The update is made globally; all of the content for the site is pulled from an external xml database.

It provides for a basic structure for recognizing what address someone is attempting to go to, if the user does not have the proper version of Flash, or has JavaScript disabled, it serves up the exact same content in valid html format for that address.

Simple Gifts

Rostislav Hristov created SWFAddress in 2006 with his business partner, Maria Lubenova. The duo co-founded Asual, a software and Web development company based in Sophia, Bulgaria, in 2004, and Hristov said SWFAddress has become one of Asual’s most talked-about creations since the company’s inception.

It was created, to provide something that did not exist previously – Flash Web sites that were both graphically rich and included navigable Flash content that could be bookmarked and recognized using a browser’s back and forward buttons.

“There wasn't a solid dedicated solution that would allow me to do this and I decided to write one from scratch,” Hristov explained. “I started developing a Flash Web site for a fellow photographer, and I wanted to make it as good as possible. I was working mostly with Ajax at that time, and I already had a good understanding how deep linking for single-page Web sites can be implemented.”

Hirstov drew inspiration and direction from many existing programs on the Internet, blending them into a new solution that was nevertheless focused on remaining simple to use for the developer.

“It wrapped all the good tricks and findings that were available on the Internet, and I tried to package them in the simplest possible API,” he said. “SWFAddresses' goals have always been high, and therefore it has been supporting every Action Script language version and development environment.”

SWFAddress is Hristov’s third open-source project, but he said in contrast to his previous releases, it shipped under the MIT license, which he said is very marketplace-friendly.

“This helped its wide adoption and allowed me to set some standards in this field,” he said.

“Best practices really depend on the quality of the development team that implements the functionality,” he said. “Every release of SWFAddress brings interesting new features, and it's always pleasant to see a site that takes advantage of them. The perfect example uses deep linking in a way that makes sense, it should be dynamic so that the content can be easily exposed to search engines, and it should be integrated with a statistical tracking system.”

Hristov said he sees this high-level of implementation in the Del Padre site, and called it one of the best uses of SWFAddress since the program’s inception.

“They did a good job combining clean design with usable navigation and nice, unobtrusive Flash effects. The Website takes advantage of the SWFAddress SEO mechanism, and it proved to work as expected.”

Mountain vs. Molehill

One reason the results have been positive, Hristov offered, is the proper use of SWFAddresses’ naming conventions and integration tools.

“Lots of people just can't understand how this indexing for deep linking works, but the Del Padre guys have implemented it exactly as it is designed to work,” he said. “It's important that the developers have used the right naming conventions and features, even providing integration with popular social networks. It's almost impossible to add such functionality to an existing Web site, and it's good that they started developing it from scratch and ended up with a solid base that can be extended even more in the future.”

We will continue in the fight for adequate Flash-site indexing, and SWFAddress is one of our sharpest weapons. Hristov himself refers to it as “small but powerful,” and that’s long been a necessary ingredient in stories of surmounting great obstacles, since David and Goliath.

About the author, Nino Del Padre
Creative Director, Del Padre Digital

Nino Del Padre is president and creative director of Del Padre Digital a design firm specializing in video and interactive multimedia applications for a myriad of companies including LEGO, the Space Science Institute, NASA, and many others, Del Padre Digital’s work has earned extensive industry acclaim.

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