Ajax (let’s not argue about naming) represents the next cool technology for web designers. Yes it has been available for years, but not until Google started using it has it gotten this much attention and been spread so rapidly amongst the community. However, just like Flash this creates a lot of issues for users of the web.
Flash became so popular among designers that they stopped becoming problem solvers and started becoming technology enforcers. When we design we should only use what is needed to solve the problem, nothing more, nothing less. If a company wishes to have a website that accurately portrays their message you have to ask yourself do you need Flash for that? If part of it includes moving objects and music then yes, otherwise the tool doesn’t fit the project.
With Ajax we again have the potential to see many websites appear with the thinking of how can I put Ajax into this site? Instead, we should look into what needs to be done with the website and how we can make the experience more fluid for the user. If Ajax fits into that equation then by all means use it, otherwise stay away.
This whole article sprang into my mind after reading Johnnie Manzari’s Ajax: 99% Bad article on the problem with Ajax and maintaining state on the web.
The web is about linking. The flow of information is able to spread and be consumed by us all because we have the ability to link to each other. For many years the only page of a Flash site you could link to was the home page. This provides a problem for both the person linking and the reader because the linker can not specifically talk about a page without also describing how to find that page and the user has to worry about finding the page that the linker is talking about.
The dux05 website shows how Ajax is taking things in the wrong direction. All of the site’s content is contained within one file. I can only assume this was done to allow for faster loading of the pages, but you also get the idea that they did this simply because they could. Since the site is done in CSS and contains a minimal amount of graphics you are only saving about 0.5 seconds for the user by taking this approach.
Sure every second counts, but not at the expense of being able to link to the Submissions page or Organizers page.
This is a case where the development team tried to fit a site around a technology, instead of seeing if the technology was needed within the site to solve a problem.
37signals does an excellent job of integrating Ajax within their Tada Lists. Each link has its own permalink so if your list is public it can be linked to. Ajax is used to update the list on the page and therefore not effecting the state of the page whenever the list changes.
This is a good example of using Ajax because it shows how it was used to solve a problem. This could be done without Ajax and 6 months ago it probably would have been done without it, but if it was done that way each time a user added an item the page would have to be reloaded.
Once a new technology is released or finally gains mainstream acceptance, it takes some time for the dust to settle to actually see in what situations it makes sense to use it. sIFR for example has its place on the web, but it certainly doesn’t belong everywhere. Same goes with Flash and Ajax. Add these tools to your designer toolbox, but do not make it a case of having a hammer and everything looks like a nail.