AJAX: Roller skates for the Web

AJAXWorld keynote details the successes and pitfalls of AJAX

AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) Web application development can be roller skates for the Web; it must be used appropriately or it can be dangerous, said Jesse James Garrett, the IT consultant credited with coining the term "AJAX."

Garrett gave a keynote presentation at the AJAXWorld Conference & Expo on Tuesday morning. While noting the benefits of AJAX, chiefly its enabling of asynchronous interaction over the Web, Garrett cautioned that AJAX is not usable in all instances. It is similar to how it would not be good to roller skate around a shopping mall, he said.

"We're going to introduce AJAX into places where it doesn't belong," said Garrett, who is director of User Experience Strategy and a founding partner of Adaptive Path.

Afterward, Garrett elaborated. "I think a lot of people are trying to use AJAX for doing kind of more dynamic content navigation -- the stuff that the Web is already pretty good at, and that's a place where it starts to break down," Garrett said. This use of AJAX breaks the conventions of the "back" button, he said.

Garrett's roller skate assessment struck a chord with attendee Vera Algoet, a Web developer at the Monterey County Office of Education. Although not currently an AJAX developer, Algoet cited the possibilities of fun and danger with using AJAX.

"I haven't done any [AJAX development] yet, but I've read some things about security concerns," she said. But AJAX offers the possibility of improved applications, Algoet said. "I just want to make better applications" that are easier to use, she said.

Recalling the genesis of the term "AJAX," Garrett said his company was hired by a large insurance company to improve an application to capture more business. Setting about trying to find a solution for responsiveness on the Web, Flash was first thought of as a solution, he said. But it became apparent there was a different way to approach the problem.

"We built a prototype of this approach, we tested it with the insurance agents, and the response was overwhelmingly positive," Garrett said. "We actually had people laughing out loud with delight at processing an insurance policy."

To persuade the insurance company president to fund the project with US$2 million, Garrett came to the conclusion that he needed an easier way, just one word, to encapsulate what he was trying to do. He then came up with the word, AJAX.

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