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More Websites Use Flash Than AJAX

Posted by Sravan | October 30, 2008 .

Everybody knows that there is a lot more Flash than AJAX on the web. But how much exactly is that “more”?

MAMA aka Metadata Analysis and Mining Application, is a structural web-page search engine that trawls the web for various details. Key findings of MAMA’s crawlings have recently been posted on the Dev Opera community resource site.

It examined 3,509,180 URLs in 3,011,668 domains. Of them 1,176,227 (33.5%) URLs used the Flash plugin; 112,277 (3.20%) URLs used the XMLHTTPRequest Object. That is a significant difference.

Flash usage was determined by looking for any PARAM element or scripting content containing the substrings “.swf” or “flash”, or any EMBED/Src or OBJECT/Data attribute values pointing to content with a MIME type using the substring “flash”.

XMLHttpRequest usage (an important part of AJAX) was detected by tokenizing all identifiers in script components, and looking for the complete string “XMLHttpRequest” to satisfy the condition.

There is also a country-wise breakdown of the results obtained. I’m surprised India doesn’t feature among MAMA’s top 20 countries. Why do you think is that?

The most striking feature is that even in Germany, where Flash appears to be the least used, 1 in 4 URLs have Flash content. On the other extreme, China and Turkey have about 67% and 60% URLs with Flash content in them. Apart from possibly having lots of flash ads on websites, the cultural tastes and eagerly experimenting developers and students contribute to this significantly above-average Flash usage in these countries. Don’t you think so?

View complete findings here. You can also visit the discussion forum for a few more insights, especially about how SWFObject scripts weren’t detected and why they think it doesn’t matter.

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3 Comments so far
  1. Keith  October 30, 2008 8:32 am

    The problem is that the statistic doesn’t seem to take into account flash adverts, so whether there are more sites that use flash for actual structure or content I’d say is less certain.

  2. Kyle Simpson  October 30, 2008 12:29 pm

    I think some of the reasons why the Ajax number is so low are:
    1. Not every site uses the native “XMLHttpRequest” object. Some still only use the IE specific ActiveX object, whose instantiation may have failed to hit on the searching done for “XMLHttpRequest” as a complete string.
    2. Ajax often finds itself embedded deep inside some other library/framework, and it’s unclear, at least from this article, if *all* scripts loaded into a page or any of its iframes were checked, or only those present in the main document of a site, so it may have missed the Ajax happening deep inside some other library.
    3. LOTS of people are using XHR workarounds now, because of cross-domain mashup needs. Some of the most popular are iframe proxying, dynamic script tags,, etc. Those would all fall under the category of “Ajax” but most likely never use the string “XMLHttpRequest” anywhere in them.
    4. Flash is actually a very effective tool for doing Ajax, and again doesn’t show any usage of the word “XMLHttpRequest” to do so. Using Flash objects as proxies has become a very common way of getting Ajax behavior on a page without same-domain restrictions.

    In fact, to the point of #4, I run a project called “flXHR” (pronounced flex-er, which uses an invisible flash “proxy”, combined with an intelligent javascript module interface, to create an identical API to XHR, and thus flXHR becomes a simple drop-in replacement for the native XHR objects, without having the same-domain limitation.

    Projects like mine, and others (as mentioned above), are becoming more and more popular, and so it’s quite likely that the searching methodology performed by MAMA was highly incomplete/inaccurate for true “Ajax” adoption numbers.

  3. Sravan  October 30, 2008 7:06 pm

    Interesting, Kyle. Why don’t you air these questions in the Dev Opera forum? The owner of that discussion has been very responsive. We can get to hear his side of the story.


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