Adobe Makes Flash Files More Searchable In Google, Yahoo

Adobe has unveiled Searchable SWF technology and is distributing a "search-engine optimized" version of Flash Player to Google and Yahoo.
Multimedia is notoriously difficult to search with search engines, and Flash content has been no exception, until now. On Tuesday, Adobe introduced new technology to make it easier to search Flash files. But there's still a long way to go.

Adobe has unveiled what it is currently calling its Searchable SWF technology, encompassed by a "search-engine optimized" version of Flash Player that Adobe will distribute to search companies, starting with Google and Yahoo. When a search spider hits an SWF Flash file, the special Flash Player will start up. This Flash Player will navigate every state of Flash files like a virtual user would, finding and helping the search engines index text and links along the way and searching through otherwise unlinked files that the Flash file points to.

Still, only text and links will be searchable. Graphics and video, including FLV files, still won't be able to be indexed properly, and there's no capability to search and index metadata embedded in Flash files (even though, Adobe says, SWF and FLV files have metadata fields) or to allow people to link to specific content within a Flash file in order to make search results more relevant. Also, when someone clicks on a search result, they'll be taken to the beginning of a Flash file and will have to navigate their way to the content they are seeking.

Adobe is looking at ways to improve the specialized Flash Player's capabilities going forward, but is skimpy on the details. Indexing metadata is one possibility. For now, Google won't be able to search Flash files that are launched via some forms of JavaScript, will index external files launched by the Flash file separately from the Flash content, and won't be able to index Flash content in certain languages like Hebrew and Arabic.

It has only been recently that search engines have been able to index any Flash content, much less do so accurately. Google, for one, warned Webmasters that Flash-only sites won't be properly indexed by search engines. It recommended developers use Flash only where needed for "on page accents and rich media" while leaving content and navigation in text form, or at least providing a non-Flash version of a Web site alongside the Flash version.

Overall, any ability to increase the visibility of Flash files to search engines should give search engine optimizers new ammunition, advertisers more information about target sites, developers a peace of mind about creating Flash-heavy Web sites, and searchers much improved results.

"If you are a Web developer, now you don't have to choose between Flash and having content searched on search engines," Justin Everett-Church, Adobe's senior product manager for Flash Player, said in an interview. Developers won't even have to do anything special to tweak their Flash files to be more searchable other than making sure the files contain text and links.

Though search engines like Google have worked hard to develop the ability to search Flash files for static text and links, Adobe's new technology promises to help them do it more accurately and more thoroughly because it can navigate entire Flash files.

Google is the first to roll out its improved Flash indexing and will be followed by Yahoo. Adobe has yet to discuss the new technology with Microsoft or Baidu, though only out of choices due to "scale" and not because of any competitive preferences, according to Michelle Turner, Adobe's VP of product marketing and product management for the company's platform business unit. The company has not made the technology a formal product, but is looking at ways to make it more widely available.

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