Adobe Flash: Lessons on Sunsetting an Industry Standard

Adobe’s decision to finally close the door on the Flash era of the internet highlights a coordinated response that any organization with an official technical standard might learn something from.

When an industry coalesces around an official technology standard and follows through with it, that’s usually a good thing.

But eventually, the standard might outlive its usefulness, and that requires a sunsetting of that technology—which might be harder than it sounds, especially if you can’t sell industry stakeholders on following suit.

All of this makes what Adobe is doing with its long-popular Flash software something that associations should keep an eye on. The Flash media player may not be an official standard, but it is a de facto one.

Flash infamously failed to make the jump to the mobile revolution and has been a major security problem in recent years, so—despite its common use on sites as prominent as YouTube and Facebook—the writing was on the wall for years until Adobe’s announcement last week that it will stop supporting Flash, phasing it out over the next three years.

Now, as the company makes the transition to newer technologies that make more sense for the web, its rollback strategy offers a lot of lessons that associations can borrow from, including:

Set a timeframe with lots of room. Adobe has committed to updating and distributing Flash until the end of 2020, which does a couple of interesting things. First, it ensures that content creators who still rely on it have sufficient time to change their workflows. Additionally, it gives the company time to communicate the change to the public, so they’re not caught off guard when the shutdown happens. “In addition, we plan to move more aggressively to EOL [end of life] Flash in certain geographies where unlicensed and outdated versions of Flash Player are being distributed,” the company explained in a blog post.

Allow some wiggle room for individual stakeholders. Adobe collaborated with at least five other corporate partners—Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla—to coordinate a public response to the announcement. Each company is taking a different approach to sunsetting Flash, some more aggressive than others. In particular, Microsoft will remove Flash from its browsers entirely starting in 2019, but it will allow users to re-enable it. Google will take a softer approach with Chrome, while Mozilla’s Firefox, which tends to support older machines than its competitors, will only put it in an “Extended Support Release” of the browser for the last year of Flash’s life. (Facebook, which does not produce a browser, hosts a lot of Flash-based games, so its role in the transition involves pushing developers along to another technology the social network supports.)

Take a lead role in shaping a replacement. Flash may be dying, but Adobe continues to sell software that helps creators make games, ads, and other building blocks of the modern web. In its statement, the company noted that it would offer support to both the HTML5 standard and to WebAssembly, a recent technology that is intended as a high-performance replacement for JavaScript. “Looking ahead, Adobe will continue to provide the best tools and services for designers and developers to create amazing content for the web,” Adobe stated.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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