Flash’s Decline on Lifehacker, from 2006 to 2010

January 30, 2010

Just like it isn't on the iPhone and iPod touch, Adobe's Flash browser plug-in will not be on the iPad, and there are a whole lot of opinions about that decision. Predictably, Steve's apostles are smug, Adobe's pouting, and the rest of us will have to field questions from our relatives about why they keep seeing a blue lego piece. Flash usage has been declining over the years anyway, and a few web publishers have shared numbers to prove the point. 32% of visitors to John Gruber's Mac blog Daring Fireball, which has a large percentage of visitors from the Flashless-by-default iPhone/iPod touch, did not have Flash enabled. Andy Baio says 16% of Waxy.org visitors don't have Flash enabled, up from 4% a year ago. This site wasn't around a year ago, but about 16% of Smarterware visitors don't have Flash enabled either.

Because its readership represents a mixed group of both Mac and Windows users--albeit more tech-savvy ones than your average web surfer--I ran the numbers for Lifehacker, which currently gets about 39 million visitsors a month. As you can see in the chart above, the number of Lifehacker visitors without Flash installed enabled nearly tripled from 2.32% in 2006, to 6.07% in 2009.*

My attitude about Flash? Thanks for all the video, but it's time to go. I welcome HTML5 and the browsers that support it. For an even-handed discussion about the realities of Flash from a current Adobe employee who doesn't work on Flash but does have lots of experience with standards, check out John Nack's post, called "Sympathy for the Devil."

* Update: These numbers do not include the majority of iPhone/iPod touch traffic to Lifehacker because a partner manages Lifehacker's mobile site and as far as I know, we're not using the Google Analytics tracking tag for the main site on the mobile site.

So we should all just move to Silverlight! Bing Maps will work so well on the iPad.

Steve Jobs might hate flash, but Steve Ballmer is the holdout. No HTML5 audio/video, no free codecs (Google did buy ON2…), IE8 and following will all do their video with silverlight.

IE is still the dominant browser, and to do video on it, you need silverlight or flash. Jobs won’t convince everyone on windows to switch to Safari (or Firefox) on Windows.

Meanwhile I don’t know how my browser would register – I use flashblock.

tz [+15]
Jan 30 10 at 2:41 pm

Maybe I’m missing something, but couldn’t this growth simply represent the increased number of visitors not capable of displaying Flash, like iPhone and some other mobile visitors? Mac blogs sure seem like a big target for reading from an iPhone, and I always read Lifehacker and Smarterware on mine, so I think these higher non-Flash visitor counts would make sense.

I just think the numbers are a matter of circumstance and we can’t use it to justify the argument that Flash usage has been decreasing over the years. I hear the occasional argument from various commenters online that they disable Flash to avoid irritating ads, but I think the majority of us are still addicted to our Flash video and games. If Adobe can get Flash running efficiently on mobile, why not let them?

Ted Avery [+13]
Jan 30 10 at 2:45 pm

Maybe I’m missing something, but couldn’t this growth simply represent the increased number of visitors not capable of displaying Flash, like iPhone and some other mobile visitors? Mac blogs sure seem like a big target for reading from an iPhone, and I always read Lifehacker and Smarterware on mine, so I think these higher non-Flash visitor counts would make sense.

Bingo. I agree 100%.

Vincent Ferrari
Jan 30 10 at 2:53 pm

A future without Flash is a silly pipe-dream. Here’s why: HTML5, at least the video tag, isn’t even standardized. The open-source types were hoping for Ogg Theora to become the standard, because it’s open. Apple has said they will not support it, because of “uncertain” patent status. Microsoft will never support it either, if for no other reason than it takes them forever to update IE.

So, who are the meaningful, forceful advocates for HTML5 video? Is it Google? Because they just acquired On2, makers of other proprietary video compression schemes. Are they going to open up what they just bought, and hope to make THAT the standard? They haven’t said yet.

So, Flash is probably going to be with us for quite some time. Yeah, it’s proprietary, and buggy, and not that great, but it’s the closest thing out there to being a standard.

Mike Cerm [+21]
Jan 30 10 at 3:01 pm

Oh, not to mention that Flash does a lot more than just video. Casual Flash games are huge! When we see Desktop Tower Defense ported to javascript, and able to render error-free in IE, Firefox, and Chrome, using fewer CPU cycles than Flash, maybe then we can talk about the death of Flash.

Mike Cerm [+21]
Jan 30 10 at 3:04 pm

I agree-can’t wait.

And I don’t expect Flash to disappear-don’t some sites still use Real for video? Expect the banner ads and cheap online game sites to continue onwards. I’ll accept the blue legos and Flashblock grey boxes gladly.

Jan 30 10 at 3:09 pm

What an embarassing post. Holy hell. I guess it just HAPPENS that the launch and rise of the iPhone/itouch coincides with the decline in flash-enabled visitors.

Not to split hairs here, but 39 million visits does not equal 39 million visitors. Generally not even close.

Still impressive numbers though. Keep on keepin’ on!

@Mike: Valid point re: visits vs visitors, will correct.

@All: Of course the decline in Flash usage in general coincides with the rise of a popular device that doesn’t come with Flash installed.

But, an important word about these numbers: they don’t include most of the iPhone/iPod touch traffic. In the Google Analytics account I’m checking, only 0.2% of Lifehacker’s traffic comes from Safari on the iPhone or iPod. (A partner created Lifehacker’s mobile site, so the iPhone are miniscule because only the ones where the user explicitly asks to be taken to the full site were counted.)

Gina Trapani [+195]
Jan 30 10 at 3:52 pm

Very interesting, thank you for the analysis. I can’t help but point out that the graph is slightly misleading. As mentioned in the text, the increase from 2006 to 2009 is a factor of 3, while the graph makes it look like a factor of 10. That’s because the Y-axis starts at 2 instead of 0.

Jan 30 10 at 4:08 pm

I am so torn, do I support 94% of my customers? Or do I let the 6% with either a choice that they made to not have flash or a choice that was made for them by their device supplier dictate how my site might work?

Me I am going what the overwhleming majority have, if that will make me a buck.

Gruber et al anti flash campagin is just the shouting at the moon so popular on the internet. Intersting but pointless

Mark Williamson
Jan 30 10 at 4:38 pm

This is interesting information, but I don’t think we should be using it to draw too many conclusions. Is the user base of the four sites listed representative of anything beyond the very most technical web users? Do any of the sites have any content in Flash today?

I would love to see similar analytics information from a larger web site that has some Flash content. Say, New York Times or CNN.

Jan 30 10 at 5:45 pm

With the new WebOS from Palm I have been able to go to sites from their non-mobile pages. That might also cause a mis-read in the data since it won’t be until February that we get Flash for our phones.

oldsage [+1]
Jan 30 10 at 8:34 pm

“…about 16% of Smarterware visitors don’t have Flash enabled either.”

Interesting to know how you count those of us who have Click2Flash, who mostly prefer to have it off for performance and security, but can invoke on demand. … and to know what fraction of your total page hits come thru the mobile sites.

My personal guess is that this issue resolves with either Adobe announcing that the Flash development tools will optionally create HTML5 format Real Soon Now, or with Apple lobbing a stink bomb at ‘em with a cheap cross-platform development tool that saves them the effort. Or both.

Jan 31 10 at 11:06 am

Lifehacker visitors without Flash installed enabled

It is interesting. I guess that we all wish to get rid of adobe’s security problems ridden product and get on with HTML5 as soon as possible.

As far as I am concerned, I am from the minuscule group of netizens who practice ‘default off’ for javascript, cookies and plug-ins. It is the policy Steve Gibbson of grc.com and ‘security now’ advocates. I only turn them on, when needed, for the trusted websites. It requires some training for the web browser, just like a normal firewall.

So I guess I am part of this 6% who visits smarterware and lifehacker without flash enabled.

Feb 1 10 at 4:57 am

I would not mind the adoption of Silverlight to replace Flash. HTML 5 is segmented, and unless that changes we are stuck with the crap that is flash. Firefox supports vorbis, Chrome supports h.264…

Whatever happened to using your native video player? People got tired of installling Real Player or Quicktime? That is certainly quite valid, as both programs suck on Windows.

I suggest an effort be made to use operating system’s main video player. Windows 7 and OSX both support .mov natively (I believe in h.264). Embed Quicktime and Windows Media Player!

Brandon C [+2]
Feb 1 10 at 6:46 am

Comments are closed. Thanks for reading!