“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

AJAX, the Revolution or the Tea Party

Today, Wired.com published an article entitled, You Say You Want a Web Revolution. The article makes what I would call a brash statement touting the revolutionary properties of AJAX. AJAX–the term coined by February essay”>Jesse James Garrett in his February essay— is a technique for creating richer (read more dynamic) browser-native presentations by requesting XML from a server, to then be used to dynamically change a screen’s layout, information, style, etc., without the need to refresh the entire screen. The claim is that this functionality brings desktop application behaviors to the web-browser. The article then says that like the early Netscape 4 paradigm which also touted “the new platform” for applications, that Microsoft should be scared by this technology, which they themselves helped to create, as it is a threat to their uni-platform approach to desktop applications.

Is AJAX getting the wind in its sail due to the events of Gmail, Google Maps, Flickr, NetFlix and of course a term to bind them all? Of course, the undeniable effect of all this is truly trickling to the mainstream. The effect is dramatic and long overdue, as these technologies have been waiting around for quite some time. I think it just required two things to move forward:

  1. That some large company STOP supporting Netscape 4, hallelujah!
  2. That someone gave the technology a catchy name, thanx Jesse

So what is my issue? Well, like I titled this piece, I am asking the question of whether this is a revolution, or a tea party (referring to one of the first protest actions of the pre-American Revolutionary period, where “Patriots” went in Boston Harbor and through heavily taxed tea overboard … OH! the humanity!). The difference to me since they are both revolutionary actions is that the tea party led to something much grander, and could be seen as a call to further arms, as opposed to the arming and war that later took place.

To me AJAX is not an end, but part of the path. It is great that we can use it now, but I do not laud it as much as others have. To me it is more a call to arms that the current browser is a hindrance, and AJAX is more a hack as opposed to a final solution. The behavior while inching closer to a richer desktop experience does not really compare to it for a few reasons, but then again, it has advantages over the desktop in some other areas. This is why technology like Flash, Avalon (Windows Vista’s new .NET based world), Java, etc. still have quite a bit of validity even in the “Whole New Internet”.

What follows is a seminar title as part of Adaptive Path’s User Experience Week (which looks great BTW-Aug. 22-25):

Ajax Case Study
Jeff Veen, Director of Product Design, Adaptive Path

Adaptive Path has been working on a variety of projects that utilize the capabilities in the Whole New Internet. Jeff will walk through a case study of how he built a product based on these philosophies in this session.

This interests me because the first time I see this term used is actually in their own seminar listings for this same event, where they describe …

Introduction to A Whole New Internet
Janice Fraser, CEO, Adaptive Path

Ten years ago, Netscape’s IPO indicated the launch of the internet into mainstream culture. The subsequent boom was followed by a harrowing bust, where companies retrenched and avoided risk. But change is in the air, as companies and individuals return to the Internet’s original promise and develop products that truly improve our users’ experiences.

This description is technology free, and talks more from a business point of view, which is quite confusing. It is also in my opinion more accurate.

But what’s important to me here is that Jeffrey and AP are both putting AJAX on a higher level than other technologies that all have something to offer and something to avoid as much as AJAX does.

AJAX to me is not a final solution–game over–breakthrough, but rather, a call to those in the technology world that in order to improve the UX of distributed networked applications we need MORE and in a big way. AJAX though puts a very important emphasis about it needing to run natively in the browser, as opposed to through a plug-in; it needs to be this easy to develop x-browser/platform, and it needs to be this viral (easy to spread). I’m sure we can come up with even more requirements.

But even the examples that are out there often rely on other technologies to complete the picture:

  • Google – desktop search, picasa, google toolbar, etc. all require insalled software (desktop software) to run. Google is good at not using plug-ins for their “pure” online experiences
  • Flickr – uses flash for its organizer and has a few downloadable apps and plug-ins as well.

To conclude, I love being a part of this tea party, and I can’t wait to get a real rifle that can kick the shit out of bad UX once and for all.

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