Ajax, Flash, and web standards

We should all be weary of new acronyms lest we promote and give significance to half-baked ideas and fads. But Jesse James Garrett’s Ajax essay is a good read — a concise, high-level look at how JavaScript and XML will upgrade the web browser for fast, dynamic web applications.

Perhaps purposefully, he leaves out the role (if any) of HTML + Flash applications, which Macromedia has been promoting for some time as Rich Internet Applications. It is essentially the same concept, but basing your app on HTML, JavaScript, and XML can solve the major problems of Flash-based apps. Flickr, for example, integrates Flash, not DHTML or Ajax. Don’t misunderstand me, I think Flash-based web apps negate the benefits of the web infrastructure, such as good REST design, but a thorough analysis of asynchronous interactive web apps needs to include Flash at some level.

Jeffrey Veen mentions the significance to Flash apps, and Matthew Haughey covers the KnowNow connection.

Another new Ajax site is the Panic t-shirt store. How many web apps use drag-and-drop at all, let alone so effectively? It’s so simple and elegant, by the time you get to the checkout page and see yet-another-web-form, the change is almost jarring.

The interesting thing will be whether the web standards folks embrace Ajax. You won’t find a spec for XmlHttpRequest at the W3C. Look at the Google source, and you’ll probably see conditions for Firefox or Internet Explorer (Safari isn’t even supported). But Ajax has something going for it: it brings some of the power of native apps to the web, but unlike the old promise of Java or even Flash, it’s zero-install and quick-load. We’ve got to drop this “web standards” holy war and just get on with building next generation apps.

There wasn’t an acronym when embedded images and HTML tables hit the web. The web just changed, seemingly overnight. The same thing will happen with more interactive, less page-driven applications. It’s just the new web.