All Sizzle and No Substance?

AJAX for the sake of AJAX accomplishes little, experts say

March 15, 2008 —  (Page 1 of 4)
No wonder it has caught on like wildfire. AJAX—which stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML—promises to deliver a better experience for Web users and a more efficient way for developers to manage communication between the browser and the server. But, according AJAX experts, many early efforts that used the technology failed to accomplish either of those goals. Indeed, those early missteps led to a raft of Web sites that use AJAX as little more than window dressing, and often exhibit a drag, rather than a boost, in performance.

SD Times asked the experts to offer their best advice on when, where and how to use the development technique, which lets the Web browser retrieve information from the Web server without having to update the entire page. Here’s what they had to say:

Don’t use it just because everybody else does. The Web is awash with AJAX-enabled pop-up boxes that look nice but don’t add information, said Microsoft senior program manager Joe Stagner. Used that way, AJAX is a wasted investment, he said. “We jumped on the bandwagon, did a bunch of stuff, and later on we figured out a lot of that stuff wasn’t such a good idea.”

Some Web retailers in particular were guilty on that count, said Frank Spillers, co-founder of user interface design consultancy Experience Dynamics. “We see a lot of pop-up views right before you [click on] the product. It’s overkill.” Like a cook who has just discovered garlic, developers tend to overuse AJAX, added Patrick Hynds, president of application development consultancy CriticalSites. “They want to put it in everything, even a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.”

Use AJAX to create business opportunities.
AJAX lets the Web application update what the user sees, based on his or her actions, and this is a powerful capability when you apply business-savvy logic to it, Stagner said. For example, he cited a bank Web site that lets users fill out credit card applications, targeting advertising to applicants based on their date of birth. In the past, ads didn’t appear until the user had submitted the completed form, including date of birth. By that point, he explained, the applicant was already disengaged. Now the bank uses AJAX to grab that information before the application process is complete. As soon as the user types in the date of birth, the bank targets its ads accordingly, Stagner explained.

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