March 14, 2006

Web 2.0, pt 1: AJAX, Mash-ups, and Search

Updated: Continued in Part 2

I stumbled upon a realization the other day- probably obvious to many already- the latest AJAX (of at least the first half of 2006) is "Mash-ups".

The idea, term, and even
demos, have been around for a while, but from what I can tell, like AJAX and Web 2.0, "Mash-up" is a term that is on track to quickly become overused into meaninglessness. (If you don't know the term yet - though you probably do - you're SOOOO not cool. Of course, if you DO know it, and use it regularly in sentences, well, you are ALSO so not cool :P - at least to developers).

AJAX really refers to a specific set of design patterns within the larger context of DHTML (scripting + HTML) authoring, but it has become a proxy for "runs like a desktop app, RIGHT IN YOUR BROWSER!" (that noise you hear is the pitter-patter of over enthused VCs). And now we have further confusing bastardizations like "AJAX-y" - meaning its not using XMLHTTPRequest() per se, but looks like the type of applications that were the initial poster children for the AJAX pattern.

Web 2.0 is the term everyone users to refer to the next generation of Internet applications and services. Given that "Web 1.0" brought us "Business 2.0", I'm expecting "Business 3.0" to GM shortly (fixes a few compatibility bugs; better perfomance and featuring a streamlined user interface!).

"AJAX" and "Mash-ups" are definitionally within the Web 2.0
bubble, and though they're all used and overused terms, there are a few specific precepts to Web 2.0 that are worth distinctly understanding. That is to say, its not all hype.

People tend to toss around a lot of terms when they talk about
Web 2.0, including:

- Web as Platform
- Harnessing Collective Intelligence (AKA the wisdom of crowds)
- Rich User Experiences
- Lightweight user interfaces, development models, AND business models
- Participatory Web

The ambiguity in deciphering exactly what all this means is probably at least partially to blame for the low signal-to-noise ratio with Web 2.0's
colloquial usage.

I'll cover what I think it means in my next post on this topic, but will leave you with this (rhetorical) question: Why did Search beat Directories (and I'll argue content portals) as the primary mode of web navigation?

16 comments:

Trekker said...

hey hey careful now ... some of those "people" will be tossing around those "terms" with our CEO in the upcoming all-hands ;-)

As for Search winning over Directories ... people are lazy and most of the times they have a pretty good idea upfront as to what they're looking for. They'd rather play with the search terms and scroll through the results than be presented a top-level categorized page that the portal/site "thinks" should be their starting point.

Speaking of Mash-ups...I wonder what folks will come up with for http://mars.google.com? It is super-cool though!

Shawn Christopher said...

Sree,
I wouldn't discount "mashups" after all http://iamalpha.com is the perfect example of us supporting it ;)

As far as AJAX it's nice but maintaining that can't take away from the content or the area is useless.

Sree Kotay said...

I wasn't intending to actually dis AJAX or web 2.0 - indeed I think there is some real meat there (and you'll certainly see both in presos and decks *I'm* giving... :P)

But still, these terms become containers into which everybody pours whatever they think it means... Web 2.0 is broad enough (semantically) to support that.

AJAX is actually pretty well defined (not that that stop anybody from abusing it :))

Mashups are also well defined, but meaninglessly so. A strict interpretation ("A mashup is a website or web application that seamlessly combines content from more than one source into an integrated experience." - wikipedia) basically means EVERY webpage is pretty much a mashup (you got ads on your page? its a mashup!)

Shawn Christopher said...

Sree,
"and you'll certainly see both in presos and decks *I'm* giving... :P" - are you going to make these avail on your blog (pretty please!?!). Being in Member Services I don't get to see anything you guys put out till it has 1000 running men and upsell points on it :(

I would even consider so much Boxley to be a "form" of AJAX (To a degree). We're specifying our pages (Boxes), Interacting with the application through JS commands with the EE core (our server if you will). You're right AJAX is pretty defined but is always being abused in implementation.

Web 2.0 ya, it's kinda like the funnel which everything gets crammed into and whatever lives is considered "worthy". Hehe, "mashups" is almost as ambiguious as "User Generated Conent" IMO.

Matt Smith said...

Why did search beat directories as the best method of web navigation? Here's my rationale.

10 years ago, the mantra for web sites was "everything needs to be 3 clicks away from where you are"...and I've always vehemently disagreed with this.

I maintain that it's not how many clicks it takes to get somewhere, it's how easy each click is.

With directories, it is all too easy to stumble down the wrong path - one reason why the back button became the most clicked button in the browser.

With the emergence of Altavista, and later Google, suddenly it became very easy to find exactly what you were looking for. (and sometimes if you're feeling lucky, you can get where you want to go in one click).

My main point here is that with GOOD search engines, it's a piece of cake to arrive at your destination. With directories, it requires exploring, backtracking and scrolling through lists to find what you need.

And if your cognitive perception of where a site should be categorized is different from that of the webmaster who submitted it, or the employee who categorized it - then you're largely up the creek with the back button as your only paddle.

Matt Smith said...

One more thought - the case can be made that the web is currently on version 5.0:

1.0 - All text, Lynx browser

2.0 - Mosaic arrives and ushers in the graphical web. Alignment choices were left, right and center - most sites looked like a lopsided stack of pancakes. Every click trail leads to the Louvre.

3.0 - Tables, Cookies and Javascript arrive. The web starts to look and function better. It was fun and cool to be a webmaster, but extremely painful if you had to build a large site for Netscape 3 that gracefully degraded to work in the AOL 1.0 Browser for the Mac -- using VI.

...I seriously need to suppress that memory

4.0 - CSS and DHTML gain a foothold. A watershed day was when ESPN.com banned outdated browsers. Web sites actually start to look cool as designs evolve beyond the blockiness that was inherent with tables.

5.0 - Blogs, AJAX, folksonomies, tags and social networks start to emerge and the hype bubble starts inflating again.

And for the Microsoft bashers out there who say that MS never innovates - just who should we thank for introducing XMLHTTPRequest()?

Anonymous said...

Google is now a mix of portal and search engine with it's personalizable home page features.

It seems like the "customizable" portal is on it's way back.

Anonymous said...

search beat directories because directories are scalable but limited in scope. But content would be the main reason. Maybe even inability to categorise everything on the internet. Similar to the advent of tagging or refining metadata, everything evolves.

eolaughlen said...

After attending the local DC 2.0 (DC area Web 2.0) last night, I have to agree with some of the sentiment around Web 2.0 being over-hyped, or maybe more appropriately over-used. Granted, the event was held at the Mintz Levin at Reston, VA and not the Googleplex, but I had hoped to see more innovation on the data service and feed side and on custom browser extensions. It was the first installment, so perhaps it will improve and change over time. I have a full write-up on the event on my blog for those interested: velocipeek.com.

BTW like the entries and blog Sree if you see this...great way to communicate and collaborate. Also, like reading other entries from the "employee-ring." :)

Anonymous said...

Some thoughts: Search engines beat directories for the same reason hash tables beat binary trees.
The conceptual strength of a tree collapses when you start seeing several branches lead to the same location. You brain can no longer remember a clear (single) path, so all the components of that path become meaningless. With search, what you end up remembering is the "winning search phrase" which results in the desired page being in the top 10. Also, because you came up with that phrase yourself, you remember it. In a tree, you're guessing someone else's key to the content. In a search, you're guessing your own.
Cheers,
Alexei Lebedev (your former colleague :-)

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