The attacks on September 11, 2001 will not be forgotten by those alive to remember it. But the documentation of those events is in jeopardy due to the end of support for Microsoft’s Adobe Flash.
September 11, 2001 is a dark day in U.S. history. Four planes hijacked by terrorists resulted in a nation brought to its knees, if only for a moment. First responders raced to each scene, survivors helping who they could, journalists and those nearby trying to capture it all with whatever camera they had. At the time, online journalism was just getting started, most multimedia was uploaded and shared using Microsoft’s Adobe Flash. No one who remembers that day will ever forget where they were, what they were doing or how they felt. But last year, Microsoft ended support for Flash, and now it’s impacting the original coverage of the attacks.
In an article found on CNN.com, the headline reads, “Some of the most iconic 9/11 news coverage is lost. Blame Adobe Flash.”
Without even reading the article, there are already two notes to make: One, that coverage isn’t lost, it simply can’t be viewed in its current format. And two, Adobe and Microsoft, that last browser standing, let the entire world know back in 2017 that it would be ending support for Flash in 2021. Earlier this year, a Chinese railway system was shut down for hours because support for Flash ended and they didn’t have a backup plan. This didn’t come out of nowhere.
What happened here is that higher ups in various media outlets did not consider the side effects of this support ending. No one thought about the impact on news coverage saved using Adobe Flash, only that they needed a new way forward. A lack of modernization cycles, a way to ensure businesses pay off technical debt, compounded the problem. When businesses don’t modernize, technical debt accrues and builds and builds and builds until it breaks. Kind of like it did in this scenario.
A little farther into the CNN article is a quote from Anastasia Salter, associate professor at the University of Central Florida and author of the book “Flash: Building the Interactive Web,” in which she discusses restoring the Flash content:
“Unfortunately it’s a lot more difficult than we’d like [to restore Flash content], particularly because ‘Flash’ encompasses generations of work and the platform’s code complexity grew with every iteration of Adobe’s scripting language,” Salter said. “I can’t say I’ve seen any news organization make the type of concerted effort that animations, games, and electronic literature communities are to save this history.”
This is true. Which is why regular modernization cycles are so important. It’s not just about resolving technical debt or stabilizing your business. It’s also about preserving your business content, including internal documents. For a media company, this includes any video or other multimedia platform. If you’re going to stop using one service in favor of another, your best bet is to move all old information over to the new platform. This way everything is streamlined, employees and customers have one place to go for information and nothing ever goes missing.
Let’s be clear, this is not a critique of CNN or any other news media outlet. This is a reminder that important information can (and will) go missing when you don’t modernize, when you aren’t secure and you don’t pay off technical debt. These media outlets can say we should blame Adobe Flash, but the tools exist for them to restore their content and update it to a current format. Will it be costly? Yep. That’s how it works when tech debt piles up and you have to take care of decades of payments all at once. Whether a company decides to undergo that cost and save that material is up to them.
The events that occurred on 9/11 are an incredibly vital part of United States history. No one wants to see that coverage “disappear” or be “lost” forever. But place blame where it should be placed, which is not at the feet of Adobe Flash. Companies had four years to prepare for the end of Flash, it was never a secret and it didn’t sneak up on them. Don’t be the next company to lose information or be hurt by not modernizing. If your team already can’t keep up and you know your business needs help, bring in an expert to help you get over the hump. Let someone else make sure your systems are secure and up-to-date and let your team continue their internal tasks.