AJAX != web 2.0

Attention all cars. AJAX is not Web 2.0. In fact, it is in many ways in opposition to web 2.0. AJAX applications create web-pages that are less machine-readable / linkable (try bookmarking a google map). This is a mistake that I have seen some otherwise smart people making, so it’s important to clear this matter up.
Clinton agrees with me

Before we get to Web 2.0., it is useful to consider what does not characterize Web 2.0. For instance, for all of the love that rich client-side AJAX applications such as Gmail have earned, that alone does not make them Web 2.0. Simply having a Flash or WML interface or a XHTML+CSS homepage is not enough to qualify. In fact, in some cases these sites actually lock in more control over the data and manage the presentation even further.

The reason for this confusion is simple. The two memes have grown in tandem with each other in the last year. The same types of developers seem to be using both approaches, and meet at the same conferences. But correlation != causality!
Some Web 2.0 applications (like the remixed google maps/craiglist app) happen to be AJAX applications. AJAX can be a useful approach for making web applications with very rich behavior. It doesn’t have anything to do with the read/write web, which is what web 2.0 is about.
Web 2.0 is about making websites machine readable so that content can squirt seamlessly between unrelated sites. Technologies like RSS, RESTian APIs, and XHTML/CSS are the core of Web 2.0. Social networks and tagging and attention are at the core of Web 2.0. Not rich client technologies like AJAX.
If we start using “Web 2.0” to mean everything we think is cool right now, the term will quickly become meaningless and obsolete.
End of rant.

9 thoughts on “AJAX != web 2.0

  1. Richard MacManus July 30, 2005 / 4:05 am

    Well said! I agree with you on this, only I would also say that Ajax is a tool for giving web apps the type of rich functionality that desktop apps are known for. So in that sense, Ajax is an enabling technology for Web 2.0 (the Web as platform).
    But it is just a tool, with good and bad sides to it – e.g. good point about Ajax making things less machine-readable / linkable.

  2. John Dowdell July 30, 2005 / 9:29 am

    Hi Jon, is there an Official Definition of “Web 2.0” somewhere, a canonical reference to which everyone subscribes (or “should subscribe”)? Maybe an original sentence where the phrase first appeared, or some other authoritative, single-sentence definition I should read, and that others accept?
    Your paragraph here works for me as a functional description, but I’m not sure whether others would also subscribe? “Web 2.0 is about making websites machine readable so that content can squirt seamlessly between unrelated sites. Technologies like RSS, RESTian APIs, and XHTML/CSS are the core of Web 2.0. Social networks and tagging and attention are at the core of Web 2.0.”
    Is there an official link somewhere that I’d be able to point others to…? Thanks.
    [musing on] I keep trying to look for new ways to see this problem… there’s definite need for microchunks of data squirting around, but I’m not sure all network experiences need to be decomposable to that level… maybe thinking of the level of chunking would help distinguish networked experiences from each other… then again, in a more interactive experience we have to remember different things about what the user did too, and this info isn’t normally as useful outside its original environment… maybe use “Remixability Quotient” as a metric, that might be what it boils down to? I dunno…. ๐Ÿ˜‰ [musing off]

  3. DeWitt Clinton July 30, 2005 / 10:11 am

    Well said! Obviously I agree, but this definitely a message that needs to get out to everybody so that we can really start unlocking the value of what Web 2.0 can be.

  4. jon July 30, 2005 / 6:47 pm

    There is a wikipedia entry for the term “web 2.0” (it is linked to in my namelink on this comment). However, it’s contents are officially under dispute as of this writing.
    The “web as platform” definition is next to useless: it does not distinguish web 2.0 from web 1.0 (the web has always been an application platform, ever since we went beyond static web pages).
    If “web 2.0” includes AJAX, it ceases to be a descriptive term, and becomes a grab-bag of anything that became cool circa mid-2004. Not very useful. Everything _except_ AJAX that is included in the definition
    *RESTful APIs
    *social software
    is related to the creation of a read/write web, a remixing-oriented web where networks of people and sites share content using standard tools and formats, leading to suprising new appliciations.
    AJAX is _very_ important in it’s own right. Like, really really important. I’m a big fan. I just don’t see it as part of web 2.0.

  5. jon July 30, 2005 / 7:00 pm

    .’Web 1.0 was making the Internet for people,’ said Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos at the [Web 2.0 2004] conference. ‘Web 2.0 is making the Internet better for computers.'”

  6. John Dowdell August 1, 2005 / 12:39 pm

    Hi Jon, thanks for the Bezos link, that helps, but your definition still seems more like a functional description, because it describes how I can tell if something “is Web 2.0” or “is not Web 2.0”.
    I’m just trying to avoid unintentionally stepping into arguments in the future, which is why I’m seeking a widely-accepted functional definition of the label, thanks in advance.
    Thanks for the Phaidon link of collected defintions, by the way… I’ll bump that up in my own blog… I’m not sure of the name of the blog author, though…?
    tx, jd/mm

  7. Thomas Fuchs August 2, 2005 / 11:50 am

    Heya! I’m the author of http://script.aculo.us, thanks for the link and the “smart”. ๐Ÿ™‚
    As much as I agree with Web 2.0 being about the read/write web and (as a consequence and/or a precondition) accepted standards (like XHTML/CSS/RSS/REST…) and stuff like tagging/blogs etc, I see rich user interfaces as an important part of this.
    I think the technologies emerging right now are not only grown in tandem, they’re complementing each other very well. Basically, it’s about all “users” (whether humans or computers) getting a better interface to data, customized to their needs.
    That’s why I’ve put the “(…) to make your web sites and web applications fly, Web 2.0 style” tagline on the script.aculo.us site, as I feel it’s the combination of all those technologies that leads to the “maturing as a medium” of the web that is expressed with the “2.0” version number.
    But I can see your point, and I’m completely open for discussion of course. Maybe another term is needed for referring to “Rich user interface web sites that use Web 2.0 technologies”. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Nick Fessel August 12, 2005 / 5:54 pm

    Indeed, AJAX is certainly not = Web 2.0. This is like comparing apples to oranges.
    AJAX has its own definition. AJAX is a mixture of programming languages, hence its name. Web 2.0 is an information and application design methodology based on emerging cultural trends in the technology sector. Web 2.0 is not a particular technology like AJAX.
    AJAX enables Rich Internet Applications and in turn, Rich Internet Applications enable further advancement of the Web 2.0. For example, Basecamp is a Web 2.0 application which happens to use AJAX as an enabler.

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