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Strategic insights
Look! An Ajaxalope!

Written by on June 25, 2006

Updated: Added fun comic...

Andrei and Design by Fire is back. That is a good thing because he always has some interesting views (although I do not always agree with him). Like in his "I'm back" post where he takes a swing at a number of popular web services.

I'm back and I can't wait to start ripping — err, commenting civilly — about the truly horrendous faddish design aesthetic that is being passed off as the "Web 2.0" thing these days, whatever the fuck "Web 2.0" means.

Look! An Ajaxalope!

- Andrei of Design by Fire

Nicely put, I couldn't agree more.

AJAX and Web 2.0 is dying

Most people do not realize this, but AJAX and Web 2.0 has already been shot to pieces and is now hospitalized without much hope of recovery.

The primary reason is the abuse.

95% of all AJAX and Web 2.0 products are not AJAX or Web 2.0 products. It is something else.

  • Just because a web site updates itself without page reload, it does not make it an AJAX application - it is in most cases just fancy DHTML.
  • Just because a website allows people to collaborate, it does not make it a Web 2.0 site - it is still just a website.
  • Just because a site acts like an desktop program, it does not make it a cool Web 2.0 site using AJAX - it is just a poorly designed way waste people's time.

The second problem is lack of understanding.

Few people fully understands what AJAX and Web 2.0 is about. Take AJAX. It stands for "Asynchronous JavaScript and XML". While the JavaScript and XML part is pretty well understood, few sites (less than 1%) are asynchronous.

Asynchronous means that you can do one thing, while the system does something else. Neither has to wait for the other to finish what it is doing. To give you a couple of examples:

  1. At home I got an asynchronous vacuum cleaner. It will clean my floors while I fix dinner, or while I write this article (it's a Roomba). I do not have to either operate or wait for it to complete vacuuming.
  2. A friend of mine has an asynchronous car heater. When it is cold, he can remotely activate the heating system. So while he is getting dressed for work, his car is making itself ready for a comfortable ride.
  3. Most of us have asynchronous washing machines. We can start them, and watch a movie while it finishes.

Asynchronous handling is great! It can really make our life better. But, 99% of all AJAX websites are synchronous. Take 37Signals' Ta-da list, one those so called "AJAX applications". Can you add one item, while the system saves the previous one? No, you have to wait for the "AJAX" function to complete. Can you reorder your list, while the system is updating another part of it? No, again you have to wait for the system to complete the last task. Ta-da list is a "SJAX" application - "Synchronous JavaScript and XML".

Note: Ta-da list is by no means a bad product, it is a really good product - it is just not AJAX.

It is even worse with Web 2.0, nobody understands what that is - and reading O'Reilly's explanation does not help much. And, there is just one catch... There never was a Web 1.0.

Notice: I do not claim to fully understand it either

The third problem is the black & white syndrome.

With Web 2.0 and AJAX there is tendency to focuses on the absolutes - either you are Web 2.0 company, or you not. There is no middle way.

This is a big problem, because that is like saying that you either drive a sports car or you are a looser. Well guess what, driving a sports car sure is fun, but not when you shop for groceries, pick up the kids from school, help a friend move, or when you want to bring your bike into the mountains - and about a zillion other situations where a sports car simply does not work.

"Only a Sith thinks in absolutes."

- Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith

The world is not black and white, it is not even gray. It is full of colors ...and it is pretty hard to be successful in a colorful world if you only use black and white.

What's next?

Do use Web 2.0 and AJAX (especially if you focus on the asynchronous part) - both are great. Do not rely on them exclusively, use them only where it improves your product. ...And if you really want to be successful, do not ever mention them by name.

But, maybe this will fix it...


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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.


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