AJAX Pioneer Emphasizes User Experience

The inventor of the term AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), urged attendees at The Rich Web Experience conference in San Jose, Calif. Friday to emphasize user experience when designing products.

Jesse James Garrett, founder of the Adaptive Path consulting firm and coiner of the term AJAX, stressed that users want a personal relationship with products they use. His emphasis on user experience echoed, to a degree, those made by Kevin Hoyt, Adobe Systems platform evangelist, during Hoyt's own presentation on Thursday.

The brain mechanisms engaged when using an interactive product are the same mechanisms engaged when interacting with other human beings, Garrett said. "In other words, we relate to technology products as if they were people," he said.

Garrett cited the iPod as an example of product that has presented an experience for the user. Even though it was not the first digital music player and has not had the most features, the iPod has been successful because of the experience it delivers, according to Garrett.

Flickr is an example of Web company that has presented an experience, establishing itself as a hub for digital photography, Garrett said.

AJAX, he said, has been about delivering rich experiences. He attributed the success of AJAX to the success of Google Maps.

"I don't know if the concept of AJAX [would have] really taken off if it hadn't been for an example as compelling as Google Maps.

With software development, there is a shift toward developing the user experience component first and working backward toward other components, Garrett said. Previously, developers started with a core of data and then dealt with business logic and then the user experience.

Development of the Web, meanwhile, has reached an interesting point in time, Garrett said. Just as TV came into its own as a medium after 10 years, having first followed the paradigms of radio and theater, the central principles of the Web are starting to be understood after 10 years, he said.

"For us on the Web, I think we're in a similar place in the evolution of the medium that we all work in," he said.

But tools vendors have not seized the opportunity to make their Web development tools more compelling for developers, Garrett said.

Noting the proliferation of AJAX toolkits and frameworks, Garrett said there would be a time when the good ones are separated form the bad ones. "I think there is an inevitable period of time that we're just going to have to ride out," Garrett said.

Commenting on Web 2.0, Garrett said YouTube is the poster child for Web 2.0.

"YouTube as a site has almost no value as a site if not for its users," said Garrett. "The value that people get out of it is the value that other people put into it."

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