Recent Innovations in search / information finding

An upcoming BayCHI event promises to be just awesome.
This month, a star-studded panel will look at recent developments in search and information finding. Panelists include:
Jakob Nielsen: Usability rock star
Peter Norvig: Director of Search Quality, Google
Ken Norton: Director of Product Management, Yahoo! search
Udi Manber: CEO of A9
Rahul Lahiri: VP of Search Product Management at Ask Jeeves
Moderated by Uzanto‘s own Rashmi Sinha.
Anyone who’s interested in search in general, or the intersection of search and user experience in particular, should attend. April 12th, at PARC in Palo Alto.

What I learned at the RIA/AJAX BOF @ ETECH

So the RIA BOF at etech was really great. About 45 people showed up, far more than I was expecting, given the short notice. There was a lot of excitement about AJAX at ETech. The term kept on being mentioned by different presenters, and I think that contributed to the number of people who chose to attend the BOF.
The discussion was very free-ranging, with a lot of smart web developers from various companies sharing their tips and tricks. Below are some of the insights that really stuck with me.

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Rocket Science and Plumbing

The AJAX meme continues to percolate on the internet, with a nice summary article from QuirksBlog that links to some of the more interesting analysis. Geeks everywhere seem fascinated by the fact the XMLHttpRequest can be used to fetch data behind the scenes and serve it up when the user asks for it.
XMLHttpRequest is a handy and mildly interesting bit of plumbing. The fact that it’s a fairly simple API that you can read about and comment on makes it handy blog fodder. But the real differentiator in all of the new google applications is NOT in that they use XMLHttpRequest (they could easily use an iframes hack instead, as an earlier commenter on my site pointed out). They could even have used Flash!
The client-side predictive engine that google has built into their new applications is what really makes them powerful.

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Rich Internet Applications BOF at ETECH

I’m organizing a BOF (Birds of a Feather) on Rich Internet Applications at the ETECH conference in San Diego next week. We’re meeting at 7:30 PM next Tuesday at Ball Room C of the Westin Horton Plaza in San Diego. It should be a lot of fun. RIA has been a big theme at previous etechs, so it should be a good bunch of people.
O’Reilly says that evening entrance is unmonitored. Feel free to join in whether you’re a conference attendee or not!

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Laszlo premiers their email client on earthlink

Laszlo has been working on this thing for a while now, and I’ve seen demos of it a number of times. But for it to be actually in production is a big deal. Earthlink and Laszlo should both be proud. Initial reviews seem positive.
The interesting thing, notwithstanding this excellent work by Lazslo, is that Flash RIA development has lagged JavaScript RIA development in this important segment. both oddpost and gmail beat flash technology to the punch, with remarkable JavaScript RIA email clients.
What are the other “obvious” niches that RIA technology will prove itself in? I’ve heard rumors that the oddpost boys are working on a spreadsheet app (their initial idea before they did the email client). None of the javascript text editors are any good at all, so that’s an obvious candidate for some enterprising RIA developer to tackle. Photo-editing is also a pretty obvious one (given that people already are storing their images on sites like Flickr). The interesting thing is that all of these things are re-implementations of software that was first implemented on the client. Look in your “Programs” directory on your PC and you’ll probably get a good idea for an RIA.

Flash RIAs vs. Javascript RIAs

Javascript RIAs (aka AJAX) don’t come close to the interactivity that developers can implement using technologies like Flash or Java. For example, there is no easy way of integrating with audio and video content, there is no ready-made toolkit of application widgets (tree-views, data-grids, etc). There are undeniable advanatages to the JavaScript RIA approach, however. So how do you decide whether a Javascript RIA (or “AJAX”, if you must) or a Flash RIA is right for the project you’re working on?

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