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Mark Anders on a new approach to searching Flash

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Big news this week for RIA developers and ActionScript programmers… Flash is indexable by Google and Yahoo (soon to be) and Microsoft Live Search!!! Wait a minute… Microsoft is being LEFT OUT of the equation!!!

Hmmm… how would Microsoft retaliate? My thought would be to open up Silverlight such that Google, Yahoo and all other search engine can index its content (if it is even possible) so that IT CAN AT LEAST GAIN SOME MARKET SHARE!!! (provided that Google and Yahoo are even bother to include that… Joke man!) Good move by Adobe! Very good move!!! Nip Silverlight when it is still so little… else the Microsoft tenacity may come sooner in waves against Flash and Adobe… This way, it will be even harder…

Here’s one of the big brains behind Adobe success / advancement with Flex and Flash in recent years, Mark Anders:

One of the projects I worked on a while ago that I can now talk about is a new approach to more effectively search Flash based applications and content. We developed it in collaboration with Google and Yahoo. Google is in the process of rolling it out and Yahoo is committed to doing so in the near future.

To understand why a new approach is needed, let’s take a step back and examine how search engines work with basic web content today. During the indexing process, HTML and other well defined file formats are retrieved, parsed, and analyzed for content such as text, graphics, metadata, and most importantly links to other content. By traversing the set of links, the indexer can crawl the site and discover all of its content.

This works because HTML is a simple, declarative format that is easy to parse and understand. Or at least, that’s how HTML used to be! The declarative nature of HTML is important, because it means that you can look at a tag such as a link or heading and the format "declares" what it is. You don’t have to run any code to understand it – you can tell just by looking at it.

The fact that SWF files are binary has led some people to conclude that this is why Flash is hard to index. However, this isn’t really the reason. Search engines can and index SWF files today.

So what we’ve done is to enable the search engines to actually run the app just as an end user would. They can not only run it and see the information that’s displayed, including data dynamically loaded from the network, but can interact with it as well, pressing on buttons and links to interact with the app and explore all of is content.

To enable this we have created a special version of the Flash player that is designed to run on the server as part of the indexing process. As the code executes, there are special API that notify the search engine when something changes and that allow inspection of the textual and other data that would be displayed to the user.

There are other API that enumerate links and allow the indexer to instruct the player to simulate a “click” on various objects that are displayed. In this way, the indexer can navigate the running app.

What’s especially cool about this is that it doesn’t require any changes to the application code to enable it to be searched. It just works.

Of course, adding things such as deep-linking – exposing URL for distinct parts of a running app, will make searching content more effective, but it’s not required. This and other techniques will undoubtedly become important tools for optimizing how to most effectively expose Flash-based information to search engines.

Thermo wave is coming next…

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Written by gooddealz

July 2, 2008 at 4:31 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] Read more here: Mark Anders on a new approach to searching Flash […]

  2. […] it comes across sites built with Silverlight. Either way, as I wrote in my previous post on Flash being indexable, the battle for controlling online standard has just gotten tougher for Microsoft. « […]


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