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Ajax for the masses

This morning I read an article in the magazine Computer Sweden and grew somewhat irritated. The article complains about Swedish web sites being outdated since they’re not using “new” technologies such as Ajax.

First, Ajax is not exactly new, since the technology has been around since 1998. It’s very hyped, yes, but that is a completely different thing. It’s just “web standards with a little Microsoft stuff thrown in”, as Zeldman recently put it.

Ajax in a bottle Ajax – now 10 percent more efficient than the competition.

Second, there could be another reason why the sites are not using Ajax. Ever considered that? Why should a plain informative site use Ajax in the first place? The articles makes heavy notion of web-based map services, which is one of the best examples of sites that get an enhanced user experience with Ajax. However, last time I checked, the number of Swedish sites with map related content is quite low. If it is so important to use it, why doesn’t Computer Sweden themselves use Ajax on their site?

It doesn’t cure cancer, even though I wish it did. Repeat after me: New technology good, inappropriate usage bad.

The bad impact on usability must not be neglected. Swedish web sites have gotten quite far in the process of making public service sites accessible. People with handicaps or non-mainstream platforms must never be shut out. Blindly introducing Ajax on each and every site out there is a great way to stop people from reaching vital information.

Instead of jumping on the Ajax hype bandwagon, why not first make sure that the site follows proper web standards? I’ve seen large corporate sites that doesn’t even use CSS. But don’t take my word for it. Have a look for yourself or read about it. Good places to start are Roger’s post Sveriges bästa webbplatser inte så bra, Webben är inte öppen för alla from Ny Teknik or why not even the Computer Sweden article Offentliga webbplatser håller inte måttet. As you can see, the lack of Ajax is clearly not the worst problem.

Since this printed publication probably has the widest reader base among all Swedish computer magazines, I can already imagine the stirring in the offices that will be the result of this. It reminds me of the underrated movie Spaceballs by Mel Brooks, where officers execute orders by yelling “do something” to the next officer in line.

Update: Robert Nyman is spot-on in his post on the subject.

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4 comments

  • avatar
    28 Feb, 2006

    Let me guess, this will just create even more websites that makes pathetic tests to check which browser I use (e.g. banks that requests that “for security reasons, use IE 5 or later,” or sites were the only thing that is browser dependant is the browser test) and drags the internet even further away from ‘platform independence’. Or am I just being grumpy?

  • avatar
    06 Mar, 2006

    Hopefully web developers will be professional and ignore a cry wolf such as the article author. It’s all about common sense, really.

  • avatar
    27 Mar, 2006

    Ajax doesn’t have to be rocket science. As a friend of mine said the other day AJAX is more like icing on the cake than the cake itself where Web development is the cake.
    Selective use of AJAX in Web applications is relatively easy to accomplish and can yield great benefits in usability and often functinoality without disrupting the whole Web metaphor.
    I too have no patience for ventures like Live.com that purport to shows a new WORSE way of doing things.

  • avatar
    27 Mar, 2006

    Exactly. Ajax can provide great benefits and give an energy boost to existing sites when it’s used in a good way. The bad way is to throw it into all web sites just for the sake of running Ajax, without even analyzing the needs for it.
    And the cake metaphor is right on target!

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Reine is a web developer who enjoys caffeine-fueled urban traveling. More...

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