Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Impact of Ajax on User Experience – Part 1

Strategies for improving the Ajax user experience ...

"Ajax has been a hot topic since Jesse James Garrett coined the term and published the essay "Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications" in February, 2005. Numerous Ajax-based web applications and development toolkits have been rushing to the internet in the past year. Web-based applications have become richer and more responsive, not only closing the gap with the desktop but also presenting new and fun ways for user-web interactions.

According to SitePoint and Ektron's survey of 5,000 Web Developers "The State of Web Development 2006/2007", 46 percent of respondents said they will tap the AJAX model for a project in the next 12 months. Gartner estimates that by 2010, at least 60% of new application development projects will include the Rich Internet Applications (RIA) technology.

... Ajax and Rich Internet Applications (RIA’s)

AJAX is an acronym for "Asynchronous JavaScript and XML". Ajax describes a set of web development technologies such as JavaScript, XHTML, CSS, DOM, XML, XSLT and XMLHttpRequest that deliver richer and more responsive web applications. The motivation behind Ajax is to improve web application’s interactivity, speed and usability.

In the client side of Ajax-based applications, there is an Ajax engine written in JavaScript. This engine is responsible for both rendering the user interface and communicating with the server for data processing. The kernel in Ajax engine is XMLHttpRequest, a JavaScript object that communicates with the server asynchronously. This technique allows data being exchanged between the user interface and the server without making the user wait. The result is that the presentation of the web page and the data exchange can be separated; the page refresh is eliminated; only the relevant page elements are refreshed, and only when it is needed.

RIA's are web applications that provide rich interaction features and functions similar to desktop applications. RIA technologies include Applet, Macromedia Flash, DHTML, Ajax and other technologies. The advantage of Ajax compared to other RIA technologies is that no plug-in is needed to make it work. A RIA example is the new Yahoo Financial Charts that utilizes Flash to present the stock charts.

Positive Impacts of Ajax on User Experience

Ajax is all about making the user interface richer and more responsive in web applications. The impact of Ajax on user experience has been evidenced from many Ajax-based web applications. This section summarizes the positive impact of Ajax on user experience.

1. Improved Performance and Smoother Responses

In Google Calendar, as you browse through the calendar, the data is updated without any page refresh. In Gmail, as you click through emails in a thread, the content is shown instantaneously. On Yahoo home page, when you switch between two news tabs, the updated news is presented to you instantaneously. When you mouse over the Weather icon, you can immediately view the updated weather data. Even when you enter a different ZIP code, you can see the instant weather data update.

With Ajax, the user experience of browsing and viewing the content on a page is different. The page responds faster and the updated data is presented without the entire page refreshed."    (Continued via Apogee)    [Usability Resources]

Mouse over the Weather button results in updated view of weather forecast. - Usability, User Interface Design

Mouse over the Weather button results in updated view of weather forecast.

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