Improved Usability with AJAX

Google has mastered the art of using simple things to create highly usable applications. This time they have done it using AJAX. There is a good introduction here.

Products in the PCM space are not known for usability, which many analysts predict is going to be a big trend now. These product vendors could do well by incorporating AJAX in their products. Some of the simple applications that can use this are:

1. Defining and configuring users, groups and roles. In one of the leading commercial products, if I have to search for a particular user based on name, there are three full page refreshes involved because there are three combo boxes and values in one box depends on value selected in the previous combo box. Apart from this, any functionality that has multiple combo boxes and multiple refreshes could use this technique.

2. For CMS products, spell check and preview functionality for editors could be implemented using AJAX. So an author can actually see the preview as he is typing. Okay that is not too convenient but you get the idea 🙂

There are many many more features that can be implemented in this way. However, one must exercise caution because AJAX has its own set of issues and should not be considered as panacea for all usability issues. Its very easy to use AJAX in such a way that usability actually decreases!! There are issues about security, browser buttons and bookmarking, among others. There is a good list of mistakes that people make here. I also suspect many vendors will need to put in considerable amount of effort to redesign their interfaces. However, if implemented carefully, I think that there is a lot that can be gained.

4 thoughts on “Improved Usability with AJAX

  1. While not entirely a new idea ( this is how new mail notifications worked on OWA and alerts work everywhere) bringing some sort of standardization and tools to make it easier do help.
    At this point in time – with broadband being there – the Web UI is again reaching an experimental state.
    With failed promices from Java and new promices from Microsoft – people are considering .NET rich clients especially for intranet and corporate like applications ( e.g. Content entry for CMS)
    There are experimental projects on AJAX – but people feel that its too fragile and will work in cases where few failures are acceptable.

    For example – sometime in Gmail, if you have two accounts – one with keyboard shortcuts and one witout – while switching between them its easy to land in a state where neither keyboard nor mouse works.
    Maybe with more controls available as the technology becomes mainstream, coding will be easier on AJAX. But as of now – I havent heard anyone talk about it for non academic or non-POC perposes.

  2. But as of now – I havent heard anyone talk about it for non academic or non-POC perposes.

    We are doing quite a big redesign projects here involving AJAX and there are many clients who want AJAX.
    There are quite a few vendors out there who’ve come up with apps that help you code ajax more easily. One of them is Rico (http://openrico.org/rico/home.page).

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