This blog is a little special, as it deals with the concepts of RIAs’, or Rich Internet Applications. Not all web designers use them, and it is a little bit of a specialist area, especially as some of the applications such as Flash, are a little controversial due to their scope of use, and their effectiveness when sites are constructed in their entirety using an RIA. One of the many problems that are faced when using an RIA such as Flash, is how to get search engine spiders to crawl through it, and find content. But, we are a step closer to this, to make RIA and searching, a reality.
When RIAs’ are developed and used, the normal remit is to ask questions involving budget, what is the RIA to do, how is it integrated with the rest of the design, animation, and what the client wants. It is seldom that designers of RIAs’ will bring up the concept of searching, and it is at best a problematic afterthought, that has been in all probability, raised by the client.
The key here is not to build it in afterwards, but to build it in during the development of the RIA. To do it, it is not about learning a new skill, but to push searching, and search ability of the RIA, to the front of the queue, and keep it there. At every stage of the development cycle of the RIA, the search ability question, has to keep being asked, and answered, by the design team.
Remember the RIA may look spectacular. It may be a marketers dream as the branding is reinforced, it may be slicker than James Dean, the animations could be up there with Pixar, but if it only pulls through around twentieth when indexed by Google, the client is going to a tad sad. RIA and searching, it can be done, but only if this is integrated, and considered, at the earliest stages of development.
Let us not forget that a similar issue existed with PDF documents a few years ago, where search engines had trouble recognising the content of them. Now they can crawl through documents and find content with few problems.
Yahoo, Google, and Adobe, are looking for ways to repeat internet history and make it easier for searching RIAs’. In fact they are collaborating on the issue, and have been for some time. The idea of search engines crawling through RIA content is very appealing to all, especially developers of RIAs’, as this makes them that little bit more versatile, and less excuses for developers not to use them. Also, if the Adobe, Yahoo and Google collaboration developers a fully searchable SWF, (Shockwave Flash), Adobe will have an advantage over the competition, leaving them to scurry along to catch up.
The collaboration has led to Adobe developing optimised Flash player technology last year. Now better known as “Flash player for search engines”, this headless version of Flash, changes the state of the SWF, to make the content more accessible to search engine spiders. It is indeed a significant step towards searchable RIAs’.
Though we have mentioned Flash player a lot in this article, it is worth remembering that other RIAs’ exist too. Java FX, Curl, Ajax, and Microsoft Silverlight, are all popular with the RIA web design community. The same principles of developing a searchable site should be applied to these too.
As you can see the problem of searchable RIAs’ is not completely solved, so it is up to you as a developer, or your design team, to work in search ability into your RIA. Remember RIA and searching, it can be done, but only if you are prepared to engineer it.
It is though, only a question of time, before RIAs’, are as searchable as PDFs’.