09 November, 2007

What is Ajax?

This entry was originally posted on the omnistaretools.com blog. It is reposted here for reference only.

AJAX is one of those things that every webmaster needs to know about. In today’s e-commerce world, every move toward making a site easier to navigate and interact with is a big plus, and using AJAX is one method of doing just that.
AJAX stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML–in english, that just means that xml and javascript are being used on a page to load content asynchronously with the rest of the page. In other words, a webpage that has an ajax component can fully load and remain static even while the ajax component is still processing data between the user and the server.
The beauty of AJAX is that it allows a user to do things without requiring the entire page to reload. This makes it a powerful way of improving the speed and functionality of your site. But, perhaps more importantly, it makes your site seem more professional. As end-users, we are so used to seeing interactivity cause page refreshes that whenever we interact with a page and it doesn’t refresh, that by itself can make it feel professional.
And yet, strangely enough, AJAX is not some complicated new technology. It’s just a new way of processing information, and its power, though perhaps more psychological than anything else (saving page loads isn’t that big a deal, when you stop and think about it) is sufficient to make it a staple of all the new web 2.0 technologies.
Writing AJAX into your site is not difficult if you’re already familiar with javascript. In most cases, a good webmaster will be able to integrate AJAX into a site without too much technical trouble. (A good tutorial on writing AJAX is available here.) The hard part is not writing the code; it’s recognizing which parts of your site should integrate AJAX.
Try to find an interactive part of your site that would not lose functionality by making it just a small box on your main page. For some, this might be a link to subscribe to your newsletter; although if you are marketing a product, you should keep in mind that a ‘subscription confirmed’ page is not fluff, but is an important and viable marketing stategy. Another idea might be to integrate a sales presentation on your site if you have a product to sell, or a virtual home tour, if you are a realtor. Although these functions could also be done in flash, AJAX is preferable because of standards. Nearly everyone has javascript available. Also, flash loads much more slowly, since the entire program has to be uploaded before it can even begin.
As you can see, AJAX is a powerful tool that webmasters can use to increase the speed, functionality, and professionalism of their site. I hope that these ideas will convince you to start working on implemenmting AJAX on your own site. Oh, and if any of you care to share, please post any examples of AJAX you’ve used on your website in the comments. (c;
Posted by Eric Herboso.
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