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“It says here you worked for ten years as a ‘Flash developer’. What's Flash?”

It's late December, 2030, and I'm sitting in a job interview. Story time. (1/21)

We're both wearing standard issue tech interview suits— combination faraday cages, PPE, and anti-discrimination blinds— but since my interviewer doesn't seem particularly jaded, and I had to explain to them what a computer mouse was, I can assume they're no older than 30. (2/21)

I sigh, then sip my complimentary water. “It was a browser plugin. Actually, you know what a polyfill is, right?”

“Isn't it like a shim they load into a browser? Implements an API the browser doesn't support yet…” They snap their fingers, trying to think of an example. (3/21)

“Ah, Like, back when the WebNN polyfill used WebGPU on Mobile Safari.”

“Right, like that. Listen: for fifteen years, Flash was a proprietary polyfill for the entire web frontend.” (4/21)

They audibly huff. “Sorry, what? A giant polyfill? This closed-source thing implemented HTML and CSS on top of the browser?”

“Well technically it did, partly. But the main thing is, back then browsers wouldn't render HTML and CSS in a standard fashion in the first place.” (5/21)

“The Flash runtime was the only way to present something the exact same way to every site visitor. Granted, web designers slowly compiled a grimoire of techniques to overcome browser and version differences. Lots of early sites even expected visitors to switch browsers!” (6/21)

“But for every designer who actually cared, you either joined the Sacred Order of Weird Browser Tricks, or you picked up Flash.”

They don't look convinced, which is fair. “Sheesh. I mean, I don't remember the web being so bad at the time.” (7/21)

“Well, we forget how brittle the web used to be. The most prominent measure of browser consistency, the so-called ‘Acid2’ test, only came out in '05. The first web inspector was another browser plugin called Firebug in '06. By then, Flash had been around for ten years.” (8/21)

“Meanwhile, browser SVG support was virtually nonexistent, so there was no standard drawing system of any sort until the canvas element arrived in 2010. And for what it's worth, the canvas API's most common polyfill was also proprietary and built on top of Flash.” (9/21)

They shake their head. “It just seems weird to call Flash a polyfill, if it was a proprietary browser plugin.”

“It absolutely was, but honestly? Its maintainers and community valued open source from square one. People used to sneer at that, but it's the truth.” (10/21)

“Early Flash content creators traded their assets and code in community portals, where no one even thought about licensing. When the tools matured, they started blogs detailing their creations and processes. Everybody wanted to share with everybody else. (11/21)

“The Flash scripting language, AS3, was an implementation of ES4, a web standard stuck in limbo. It led to innovations the open web wouldn't see for a decade. Adobe open-sourced the Flash VM in the hope that ES4 might gain traction, but the browser makers dropped it.” (12/21)

“In fact when AIR, Adobe's desktop application platform, brought Flash out of the browser, it also supported HTML, CSS and JavaScript: it was initally released as an Electron predecessor.”

“Uh, Adobe made a whole OS?”

“Ah no, Electron OS came later, like 2023.” (13/21)

“Anyway, Flash's awkward defense against opponents of closed source is ironic— they basically agreed, but were stuck with proprietary legacy code. It was a tricky situation, championing an expressive, open web before most browsers even existed, while mired in licenses.” (14/21)

“It's weird to think of a browser plugin as being more ahead of the curve than the browsers under it.”

“Well, consider this: in January '09, news sites needed to live stream President Barack Obama's inauguration to millions of visitors. There was no clear solution.” (15/21)

“Web video was in its chaotic infancy. Having everyone download an app overnight was too big of a hurdle. But everyone had Flash, and Flash had its own plugin support. So they used a Flash plugin plugin, that bounced the video signal peer-to-peer across the world.” (16/21)

“That was called the ‘Octoshape Grid Delivery enhancement’. And Twitch was still migrating their web frontend off of Flash six years later! Today, WebRTC is 15 years old, but to watch the Ocasio-Cortez inauguration, we all still had to download a closed-source app.” (17/21)

Dammit, I've rambled again. I take a long drink of water. “I really don't know what the takeaway is. Every now and then in the software industry, a weird niche appears, and a thing like Flash squeezes in. If we're lucky, a community develops around it and we get culture.” (18/21)

“The world moves on— and not always in a great way— but we shouldn't forget that the things we all left behind had their place.”

“Like me,” I add, after a pause. In the merciful silence that follows, I think to myself, when was the last time I laid eyes on a MovieClip? (19/21)

“You must have been insufferable in the '10s,” they finally say. “This platform you stuck to for a decade, killed off in the name of an open, standards-based web, but for the sake of newer proprietary platforms.

And then AI disrupted the industry and replaced you all.”

“Well, AI replaced developers. But the thing about Flash was, none of us were ever just developers.”

They consider. “We need to fill the position by mid-January. What's your timeline like?”

“12 frames per second,” I say proudly. (21/21)

— ƒ —