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Translating Flash for search sites

Macromedia, maker of the popular tool for Web animations, tries to raise the visibility of Flash-created content on search sites, which frequently pass it by.

Macromedia, the maker of the popular Flash tool for Web animations, is courting search engines in a bid to raise the visibility of Flash-created content, which is frequently passed over in Web indexes.

Rob Burgess, Macromedia's chairman and CEO, said the company is talking to major search engines, including Google and AltaVista, to help make it easier for their Web page crawlers to index the graphically rich pages of Flash Web sites.

Flash is one of the most widely used development applications for Web sites, advertisements and games, claiming such clients as Nike, MSNBC and Virgin Records. But because search engines are largely designed to catalog Web pages created in hypertext markup language (HTML), Flash Web sites can be difficult for search engine crawlers to read and index.

As the economics underlying the search engine market have grown more attractive in the last two years, thanks to advertiser-sponsored links that appear with results, Macromedia has created a developer tool kit to help fix some of the stumbling blocks to reading graphics-laden pages versus text pages. The tool kit is designed to convert a Flash file's text and links into HTML for indexing.

So far, Fast Search & Transfer's AlltheWeb has announced support for the tool and started indexing Flash pages. Google has said it can extract links from Flash pages but has not adopted the developer kit Macromedia issued.

"The problem is that right now, with the exception of AlltheWeb, any textual content within a Flash file is not read," said Danny Sullivan, editor of the newsletter. So for example, an e-commerce catalog built with the tool won't translate to search bots. But Sullivan said that although the Macromedia effort is a step in the right direction, it doesn't completely address the nature of Flash sites.

"It's nice that they are talking, but you still have this issue that a lot of Flash content isn't textual, i.e., (it's) full of images, (music) and logos," Sullivan said.

The outreach is part of Macromedia's new agenda to play a bigger role in people's experience on the Internet, as opposed to simply being a provider of the tools to develop sophisticated Web sites and applications.

In another example, the company, a longtime behind-the-scenes player with its Web developer tools Flash and Dreamweaver, hosted a symposium of interactive advertisers and agencies in New York on Thursday. In addition, it relaunched the Macromedia Flash Advertising Alliance and Web site, a forum devoted to advancing the creative side of online advertising.

Members of the initiative include Web portal Yahoo, advertising agency OgilvyInteractive and ad technology company DoubleClick. Macromedia and DoubleClick are working on an update to DoubleClick's ad serving technology DART to include support for rich-media ads created with Flash, which include video, audio or animations. The new DART/Macromedia product will be available this summer, Burgess said.

"We've always been an enabler of Web site development, and now we want to pitch ourselves over that fence into improving the experience people have on the Internet," said Burgess.