AJAX workshop at Web 2.0 conference

Lots of workshops on offer this morning: I’m in the “Business Case of AJAX” workshop. This is a topic near and dear to my heart: I’ve thought for some time that Macromedia’s excellent value proposition work for RIAs could be repurposed wholesale.

8:35 Jesse from Adaptive path (note: now framing themselves as a “Digital Product Strategy”, rather than a “User Experience Consultancy” firm) is introducing the workshop. Peter’s new site looks interesting. Just added it to my feeds.
8:40 Much of Jesse’s introduction seems repurposed from the AJAX conference a few months ago so far, talking about reasons for the rise of AJAX (google’s bold moves, the clearing of the “fog of war” from the bubble, etc).
Ajax means that designers and engineers have to collaborate more (says Jesse). I think what he actually means by this is that engineering talent is focused on solving UI problems (just like in the old fat client days really). This is similar to David Tempkin’s calls for a renaissance of UI engineers. For a while, developers have simply abandoned the front end and focused on technologies that allow a clean break between presentation and business logic. The goal was that a designer using Dreamweaver would make the app with only minimal interaction with the technical team (often using some kind of templating technology). That approach goes away, and as an engineer, I think that’s a good thing. I like working on making UIs better.
Jesse is demoing the direct manipulation aspects of MeasureMap. Frankly it doesn’t demo too well yet, but it does seem well designed to web statistic requirements of bloggers. Let’s see if they release before Mint takes over this space. Adaptive path will be open-sourcing their slider widget (on JSAN?), which is cool.
8:45 Joe Chung from Allurent (who I’ve blogged about before) demoing a very slick FLEX-based shopping cart. It’s official. AJAX is the new moniker for RIA!
8:48 HTML’s limiting factors actually stopped designers from doing a lot of BAD things. With AJAX and Flash, we have all the rope we need to hang ourselves. Expect lots of unusable applications to show up on eHub in the next year.
Business Value Point 1: Brand Matters (difference between generic and brand-name claritan sited as an example).
Business Value Point 2: Brand tied tightly to online (and offline) users experience.
Business Value Point 3: Shopping cart abandonment: the business problem that Allurent is solving.
Funny that it’s the Flash-based startup articulating the business value of AJAX. I guess they’re the ones who have studied the Macromedia value proposition papers!
The Allurent app looks really really slick. Zooming in to view jewelry, nice transition effects. Nice handling of error conditions. These guys are going to sell a lot of software to etailers.
Point 4: User testing shows that users AREN’T confused by desktop-like behavior in web applications. This has been an open issue until now. Very good news!
Evan Goldberg from Netsuite (web based ERP/accounting application). Showing some fairly prosaic examples of AJAX (putting new values into forms on a user action without a page refresh). This stuff doesn’t demo well at all, but it’s probably where a lot of the value of AJAX is. Dell’s first AJAX configurator probably won’t be very sexy either, but it will be a huge improvement over their current broken user experience.
The center of gravity of application development moving to web. As new conventions evolve on the web (new UI paradigms), we will need standards. There has been no talk so far of APIs or toolkits, but these new UI paradigms will obviously need to be wrapped up in toolkits for individual developers to reuse. Right now this is the advantage that IDE based solutions like FLEX, Laszlo, and Tibo have is that they ship with complete widget libraries. AJAX hackers who are hacking from the ground up don’t have this advantage right now.
Good question 1: proving ROI?
Allurent: Proving is hard. A-B testing should work, but it’s more subtle than that. New things require a learning curve, and lots of people trying out the new technology mess up the metrics.
Jesse: you have to take the long view: change brings instability, you need to wait for the noise to settle out before you can measure the business impact. Effect on brand perception is as big as checkout abandonment savings, but requires actual market research to prove.`
Good question 2: why are JavaScript dev tools so sucky?
Allurent: used FLEX because of it’s strong development environment. VisualStudio.net can be used as a debugger for Javascript. More/better tools are coming.
Good question 3: roadblocks to AJAX adoption?
Jesse: tools. Skeptical attitudes towards Javascript given it’s “toy language” reputation. Need for higher-level toolkits. Standardization of UI widgets needed.