[update] There does appear to be a FAQ available here: http://www.adobe.com/devnet/flashplayer/articles/swf_searchability.html -- doesn't go into a lot of technical detail though.
OK, the news today is that Adobe is working with Google and Yahoo! to make sure they are able to index SWF content fully. That's pretty exciting and a real step in the good direction but it does leave me with a bunch of questions and concerns.
Reportedly Google and Yahoo! have been given a 'special, search-engine optimized Flash Player' that is able to index all data, not just static text as was the case with the Search Engine SDK Macromedia already released back in 2002. Google implemented that SDK which meant you were able to do search queries specifically on Flash content e.g. "peter elst" filetype:swf.
With just the press release and no FAQ to go on these questions spring to mind:
What exactly is getting indexed?
"... lt will move through the states of your application, get data from the server when your application normally would, and it will capture all of the text and data that you’ve got inside of your Flash-based application." (via Ryan Stewart)
The concern I have here is that URL requests to the backend will get indexed, those URLs getting exposed in search queries or spider bots hitting those URLs could cause issues. Its not like in HTML content where the search engines can ignore form submit URLs, there is no such context in a HTTPService or URLRequest.
You don't have to do anything
"The best part? You don’t have to do anything. Any SWF you already have out there will be indexed by this new player."
So I don't have to do anything, no opt-in? What if I don't want stuff indexed, I know several companies with the (all be it a flawed) idea that having their content play back in an SWF on their site will drive traffic rather than allow it to be easily aggregated or screen scraped.
I'm pretty sceptical about this approach to be honest and doesn't sound like its the best way to handle things. I believe the problem can not be fully addressed without some sort of meta information scheme provided by the content author.
So how exactly will this content get handled?
"... Google is going to have their own rules for how this new Flash Player indexes and uses the content. So will Yahoo"
"You can poke the system, see what works and what doesn’t work. See how Google will handle deep linking and URL changes in Flash. It’s all up for grabs and it’s really exciting to think about what the Flash community can discover about SEOing SWF files."
I think that is worrying, that almost reads like "we have no idea what the result is going to be here" just try it. Now, remember this doesn't appear to be opt-in. It doesn't give me any control about how I optimize SEO with Flash it is all just out there.
Whenever the Flash content and SEO question came up at conferences for years the answer was twofold:
1. Google indexes static content, try filetype:swf 2. We are talking to Google and others to come up with solutions that will benefit the Flash and AJAX community who are pretty much in the same boat.
It almost looks as though this is a backup or intermediary solution. Where does this leave deep linking, what about those of us already using things like SWFObject to do SEO, will this 'special Flash Player' be licensed to others (Microsoft Live Search anyone?)
Don't get me wrong, I really welcome this move and can only applaud Adobe for taking steps like this but without any more details I'm not sure how excited or worried I should be getting. Adobe is pretty open about communicating their plans, usually that also means things get shown to subject matter experts under NDA and based on their feedback a FAQ gets published alongside.
Compare this announcement to the way the Open Screen Project was announced with comprehensive background information. This just seems like a blogging campaign linking to a relatively vague press release and a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon without a whole lot of substance to the story.
In any case, if this works out it will be a huge benefit for Flash content and remove some more barriers to entry for certain companies to adopt it. Keep up the good work Adobe and look forward to hearing more information about how this is going to work.
Read the press release here