I’d like to tackle the theory of AJAXification for a moment, mainly because I was just in the middle of an AJAX-rendered hellish portion of an otherwise OK website.
AJAX is a buzzword and people who even know it are probably some of the few web programmers out there still able to compete over 6-digit salaried jobs.
The simple definition is that AJAX is a browser-side technology — in other words it doesn’t run on the webserver, it runs on your home or office computer — that sends data and fetches data to and from a web server without the need to reload or load the webpage. Only the portion of the webpage that needs to be changed is changed, rather than the whole webpage. It can save time and looks better to the user because the pictures and background of the page don’t need to reload. It can also be a waste of time, as shown in the example below.
The result of AJAX used correctly is a user experience that resembles a desktop application. Google (gmail at least) has it right, and I sure hope their programmers are getting the 6-digit income they deserve.
What annoys me is when AJAX is used to “be cool” — not to enhance the user’s experience.
The application that annoyed me today is the largest area newspapers’ online calendar of events. Perhaps the application ran “slick” in testing with only 5 or 10 events listed. I’m sure it ran very nicely. Especially from their high-tech offices with terrific web service, or even with the servers at the same location.
There’s a mini calendar which shows a bit into next month, and underneath it, starting with “today”, is a huge detailed listing (date, time, name of event, location…) of the area’s events for the next several days.
Each date on the calendar is a link that, when hovered, brings up a floating list of that day’s events. If there were 3 events per day, this would be bright. There’s more like 40. It takes as long to load the floating list as it would to reload the web page. You have to sit there hovering your mouse over the date for what seems like an eternity as it makes a call to the database to pull up and format the day’s events. There’s a nice swirly thing that shows up if you hover over the mini calendar. Without the swirly thing, if I went to the mini calendar to click, I wouldn’t ever know that a “cool” list would eventually pop up. It pops up next to my mouse with a listing so long that when I then move my mouse down the list I eventually hit the bottom of the browser, and the whole AJAXified listing goes away. It doesn’t scroll as I move down. That’s real helpful.
But let’s say I want to peruse today’s events, and pull up the event details for items I’m interested in in another window, or in another tab, of my browser? Then when I’m done selecting a bunch, I can look through the event’s details…
All this time my laptop fan is going nuts, the load on my laptop was increasing, my laptop was getting hotter, and it was a waste to even be on the page. I have better things to waste my time with, like ranting about the abuse of AJAX!
This is just one example of a webpage that needs an AJAX Anonymous support group. Perhaps they never thought through what the user would do, how they would expect it to behave. They created a webpage Frankenstein monster based on what was “cool”. It’s not EASIER. It’s not CHEAPER. It’s their self-aggrandizement at stake. “Look, we have AJAX!” — so what?
It doesn’t help that I went for an interview with that company a year ago and they kept asking me if I knew AJAX and I kept saying “Not Yet.” I still say not yet because I’m still not convinced that anything good would come of it. I’ve seen very very few things that would REALLY be enhanced by the use of AJAX. AJAX is not the killer tool to make a website cool. A website is either cool or not, regardless of the technology behind it. If doing something in AJAX would really make the experience better, go for it. Gmail is cool because it rather closely replicates the experience of a desktop email application. I hardly use it, but when I did, I was suitably impressed, then went back to my own email app.
An online shared calendar doesn’t need to be AJAXified like this one was, though. I would have preferred to load each day’s events in a separate tab, or view event details for selected dates in different tabs so I could keep flipping between them and comparing times and locations to see how many events I could attend.
So, in conclusion, if you’re looking for AJAX because you heard that AJAX is cool, ask to see some good and bad AJAX in action and talk to an expert to decide whether or not AJAX would enhance your users’ experience given what you’re doing on your website.
If you really do know AJAX, please stop people before they ruin their websites with it. You have a moral and ethical responsibility to guide people correctly in how they use their websites.
Please curb your AJAX. Good boy. Sit.
[tags]custom programming,education,ajax,information,programming,rant,fads,usability,web application programming,web applications,web standards,navigation,seo[/tags]