Taking the pulse of the open-source AJAX community

A recent survey by Ajaxian (writeup here, raw results here) revealed that the 40% of developers working with AJAX are not using any higher-level APIs or toolkits! This is really disturbing: trying to make javascript work across all browsers is really hard, and developers are buying themselves a great deal of pain by not standing on the shoulders of those who came before them. Why aren’t more developers using these frameworks?


My theory is that the process of shopping for a framework is just too much work. Investigating an API and then deciding it won’t be useful feels like a waste of time. Diving into code and starting to hack feels much more productive, even if it’s not the best course of action. This is the phenomenon Paul Graham refers to as the “still life effect“.
One thing developers look for in a framework is a thriving community. Large numbers of people using a framework means 1) a lot of people have evaluated the framework and found it useful enough to start using, and 2) the framework is likely to improve quickly since so many people are working with it, giving feedback (and hopefully submitting patches and extensions).
To help others pick which platform to investigate, I’ve done a little research on the user communities for each of the platforms. The first thing I did was a) count number of threads and number of posts so far this month on the mailing list for each of the major frameworks. As a bonus, I also noted how many people have tagged the main page of each project in del.icio.us. Hopefully these numbers provide some kind of a metric of how much momentum a given framework has right now. This data is a nice compliment to the Ajaxian survey data.

API newsgroup posts threads note tags
Dojo Toolkit dojo-interest list 414 113 simple count 1526
OpenRico rico.tigris.org 199 46 simple count 2752
zimbra zimbra.com/forums 125 33 only counted AJAX-related messages 1856
Mochi groups.google/mochikit 110 31 simple count 837
Prototype rails-spinoffs 104 71 8 mentions of prototype 2574
Scriptaculious rails-spinoffs 104 71 5 mentions of scriptaculous 5184!
behaviour rails-spinoffs 104 71 no mentions of behavior! 1019

Some observations

1) Wow, lots of people are talking on the Dojo list! That’s a good sign for Dojo, which otherwise (going from their roadmap, at least) seems to be the most ambitious of the javascript frameworks.
2) The “prototype coalition” of Scriptaculious, Prototype, and Behaviour doesn’t have as much traffic as I would have thought, given the reported popularity of the Prototype in the Ajaxian survey. Is rail-spinoffs the the only list for developers using Scripaculious / Prototype? Would love more info on this from other developers. If so, I’m curious why there’s so little conversation there. Is prototype just so easy to use it’s not worth discussing?
3) I probably overestimated the amount of Zimbra traffic, since it was in a forum that also dealt with non-AJAX API issues. This is a core problem with Zimbra as an API: the javascript API is not available as a separate download (you have to download their entire source tree for the zimbra product). As a result it doesn’t seem to have a core community of people using it as a generic API (lots of people using it to improve the Zimbra product, of course). Zimbra looks appealing to me from a feature-set perspective (full set of desktop-like widgets) but I’d be wary until I saw more evidence of a mature “outside” developer community.
Anyway, this information is by necessity incomplete. If I didn’t cover your favorite framework, I’m sorry! Compiling this data took a bit of doing. If there’s a framework you’d like added to the table, send me the traffic data for Nov 1-20, 2005, and I will add it!
Readers looking for comprehensive writeups of the various apis should read these articles.

5 thoughts on “Taking the pulse of the open-source AJAX community

  1. KevinH November 22, 2005 / 5:08 pm

    Our source download is now only 26MB (not perfect but smaller) We also have read-only CVS so you can get just the AjaxTk if you’d like. This is under 2megs.

  2. Jon Boutelle November 22, 2005 / 5:57 pm

    Mucking about with cvs just to try out a framework is not a practical option. Most developers will either move on (in confusion) to the next framework or download the full 26 meg source (which is what I did, by the way).
    It’s really a question of whether you guys are interested in the AjaxTk being a successful independent framework (outside the context of the Zimbra app). That’s a business question. But if you ARE, you need to provide it as a seperate download.
    I think Zimbra might be the best “widget set” out there at the moment. (OpenRico has one great widget, but not a complete set, and most other frameworks are not focussing on widgets quite yet).
    But if you guys want other people to feel the same way, you should provide the libarary as a separate download. I spent 10 minutes clicking around your site, and if I hadn’t been really motivated by your demo at Web2.0 I would have probably just moved on!
    Final note: Zimbra (the product) is hella cool. Nice work!

  3. dotvoid November 23, 2005 / 2:16 am

    Many of the frameworks do too much. I think that is the main reason why people go through the pain of doing these things for themselves. If all you want is ajax communication – then using a fat framework with huge amount of features is never good.
    If you’re so lucky as to start out on a completely new application where you need more than just ajax communication – or when you have very specific needs for synchronisation of async transactions or similar – then it might be better to opt for a framework.

  4. Jon Boutelle November 23, 2005 / 10:34 am

    Ah, feature-itis. It’s not just for products!
    I think you just identified a in interesting niche for an API, dot-void. JUST wrap up the XMLHttpRequest stuff in a way that is compatible with all browsers, and nothing else.
    Many early adopters working on new shit will pass it by, but it might be a big hit with people working on existing sites..

  5. Cody Lindley November 24, 2005 / 7:11 am

    Great observation about Prototype. If you find an answer to the questions you raised please do share.
    Personally I think Prototype and Scriptaculious are great. Its the obvious choice for those who want to hack about the code. I have wondered however if I am the only one who thinks its so great. The community seems very silent on this framework. It like a trade secret or something.

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