Adobe helps search engines to index Flash-based content

Adobe Systems Inc. announced today that it is working with both Google and Yahoo to improve the search engine indexing of Flash (.SWF) files -- a capability search engines have had for years, but haven't used.

Search engine giants Google and Yahoo are utilizing Adobe's recently-updated Flash Player standard to help make Flash-based content searchable. Google has already launched its indexing mechanism, with Yahoo reportedly next in line to do the same.

The SWF specification is in its ninth iteration, and has been openly available for consideration for some time, but until this version, was not fully utilized by many due to licensing fees. Now, however, as a part of the Open Screen Project, SWF is more openly available, which allows Google to officially roll out a capability it's had for years.

When the spec was opened in May 2008, Rob Savoye, head of the Gnash (GNU Flash Player) development team, said, "Adobe's licensing had acted as a bottleneck, as you were allowed to read the specifications and able to build using SWF but prohibited from building software for SWF file playback. Or, as [Dave] McAllister [Adobe's Director of Standards and Open Source] put it, you: 'Couldn't build anything that looked or smelled like a Flash player - only Adobe could do it.' As of May 1, though, you can build your own Flash player and embed Flash into an application."

Graphical, audio and video content, such as that found in FLV files common to YouTube, is still not searchable yet. Although Flash gadgets, buttons, menus, and self-contained Web sites can now be found through Google, the mechanism is limited to textual content and embedded URLs. Flash files without anchor text will remain invisible to searches.

However, a Web developer need not make any special modifications to pre-existing content to enable it to be index, since Google will automatically index content. Therefore, if there is textual material that site managers do not want Google to index, it should be either removed or replaced with a graphical representation.

Creating a robots.txt file may also work for developers wanting to exclude Flash content from being indexed, since other methods involve marking up HTML and may not be applicable to some Flash-based sites' design.

Google's Webmaster Central Blog lists three main limitations which the team is currently working on resolving:

  1. Google's bots can be thwarted by some JavaScript, so Flash files executed via JavaScript are likely not going to be indexed.
  2. Flash files and their linked external content (HTML, XML, or other SWF files) are indexed separately, so Flash files are effectively bereft of content attached from external resources.
  3. Hebrew, Arabic, and other "bi-directional" languages (where numeric content reads left-to-right, but text reads right-to-left) are not yet supported, however this is a common condition.

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