2005
07.17

I did a little continuing professional development this afternoon, and encountered the newest WebDev buzzphrase – AJAX.

Apart from the technical details, it’s interesting to me for two reasons:

  1. It’s yet another example of the power of names. This “sort of thing” has been in use for a while now, but only when given the acronym AJAX is it easily conceptualisable. Apparently, it’s taken off like wildfire.
  2. It’s an example of how buzzword-driven IT is. As implied above, I was doing AJAX back in 2000, but with a custom browser tool rather than the method used now. It’s only because Google started using it that people started noticing.

So what is it then? Web applications are slow to respond as each user request requires another trip to the server, meaning the entire page is re-created, often with nearly identical content (e.g. with just an LJ comment added). So AJAX uses Javascript to fiddle with the page at the user’s end, talking with the server (“add this comment!” “Yep, done”) and then adding the comment on the user’s page right there. Much less hassle and bandwidth. Or, you can get creative and make stuff that wouldn’t be possible otherwise, like Google Suggest. And if we’re going to be using Javascript/DHTML, we might as well make use of all its capabilities, too – as browsers become more standards-based, the infamous unpredictability is finally disappearing. (But due to IE, not completely – is it safe to go back in the water?)

It’s also a good example of how much more can be ‘wrung’ out of the web. Never assume that things have ‘matured’ or are settling down – this technique will probably get as widespread as CSS, and the contribution it’ll make to the web will be profound. For example- back in that 2000, blogs/journals were called ‘everything/nothing’ sites and barely existed, and now they’re a large chunk of Internet culture, community infrastructure/plumbing, content generation, and so on. (However I think calling it “Web 2.0″ is a bit overkill).

I have two concerns though: accessibility (must be careful not to veer off standards hunting some cool effect) and the content separation that the webdev community has fought so hard to achieve (aside: I see so many developer’s sites shouting “I DO WEB STANDARDS!” it’s become more of a statement not to say it, like not having a mobile phone) may be jeopardised by – yes! – mixing in app code with HTML…

Right, links time.
http://www.ajaxpatterns.org/
XMLHttpRequest and AJAX for PHP programmers
http://script.aculo.us/
http://prototype.conio.net/
http://www.modernmethod.com/sajax/index.phtml

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