Litmus: RIA

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The Tipping Point for RIAsRich Internet Applications: Information at the Speed of Life
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  • 1. LITMUS The Tipping Point for RIAs Rich Internet Applications: Information at the Speed of Life Even if youve missed the hype surrounding these web technologies, youre experiencing the effects of a tipping point for RIAs, or rich internet applications, every day. On major portals, e-commerce sites, social networking sites and web- based email and instant messaging services, lag time has all but disappeared and user interfaces are far more dynamic, graphical and participatory than they were even a year ago. Seemingly Subtle Changes Have Big Effect Learning your citys temperature, movie times or Mexican restaurants just requires a zip code and, after zero delayvoila! House hunting on sites such as HomePages and Zillow feels like a legitimate form of FBI surveillance, as you float above aerial imagery while relevant home values and neighborhood demographics (and crime stats) attach themselves to whats in view. You can build your dream car and instantlyZillow.com Zillows content assignsaccurate market value forany home and for anyone. Type in an address and quickly see street and satel- lite views, home stats and market comparisons all for free. www.resource.com 2009 Resource Interactive. All rights reserved.

2. price it down to the rims on several automotive sites, or read a films plot summaryand order it all at the same time on Netflix. When going through checkout on yourfavorite apparel site, you dont have to abandon your whole consideration set andbrave the one-way shopping cart cul de sac. Whats going on? Behind the scenes, bit by bit, developers are augmenting andreplacing the webs HTML backbone with more rich internet applications, arather generic phrase Macromedia coined in 2002 to describe what developers anddesigners were doing with their vector-graphic technology called Flash essentially,overcoming its design and interaction constraints. Rich media, rich clients, rich userinterface: all are names used, often inconsistently, to describe roughly the sameconceptweb applications that allow a more desktop application-like experience.Slightly less confusing are the assortments of technologies that can be employed todevelop these applications DHTML, ActiveX Controls, Flash, Flex, OpenLaszloto name just a few. DHTML (the D stands for dynamic) was perhaps the first, partialstep forward in making the web a pliable, engaging, multimedia tool for myriadusesand experiences. Today, AJAX seems to be the poster child for rich internetapplications. AJAX is actually a combination of technologies including DHTML andJavascript that have quite literally been around for years, but it nevertheless haseveryone talking about the new potential of the web to be more like, well, life. Enterprises are expected to spend in excess of $500 million on RIAs by 2011,according to a recent study by research firm Zap Think. To understand whatsdriving this spending, and the potential impact of RIA technology on both usersand enterprises, one must understand the road weve traveled. HTML was originallydesigned just to present research documents coming from somewhere else (aremote server) and to link them together via code called hypertext. This was WorldWide Web founder Tim Berners-Lees idea and this was marvelous stuff whenthe web wasnt commercialized. That web was one you could essentially pagethrough, so to speak, to read and store information, but you couldnt do muchbeyond that. In the course of about a decade we have witnessed the advent andadvances of e-commerce, real-time news and product customization, to name a fewmilestonesessentially web applications that require a more sophisticated interface,similar to what computer users experience with desktop applications such as MSOffice and Mac OS X. HTMLs page-based linearity and page-load waiting time nowseem to belong to another era.The Benefits of RIAsEssentially, RIA technology can enable improved and streamlined user experiences.For e-commerce organizations trying to reduce any and all barriers in the shoppingcart and checkout process, streamlining and simplifying are critical advantages. Sitesmore focused on brand building can leverage RIA technologies to increase userinteraction (time spent on the site interacting with the brand) and facilitate datawww.resource.com 2009 Resource Interactive. All rights reserved. 3. capture. Here are some specific situations where RIA technology can be employed to improve the user experience:Information that requires frequent sorting (and resorting) and filtering is a prime candidate for an RIA-based interface. The technology allows users choices to be sorted and/or filtered on the fly without a page refresh or even a trip back to the web server. Generally, this is accomplished by caching some or all of the data on the user-side and only making calls back to the web server when more or different information is needed. When a call back to the web server is required, it is done behind the scenes and does not require a page refresh. This technique not only improves the user experience, it greatly reduces the amount of data transferred back and forth between client and server (something both your customers and your system administrators will love).Digg.com Witness real-time filteringand streaming information without a page refresh onuser-ranked news web siteDigg.com. Its a giantmirror held up to themasses as they submitstories or a digg or comment on a story. The process of gathering information (addresses, payment information, survey responses, etc.) from the user can also be improved using RIA technologies. With HTML, data capture is accomplished in one of two ways:www.resource.com2009 Resource Interactive. All rights reserved. 4. 1. by using a very long scrollingand sometimes overwhelmingform that tries to capture all of the information in one step, or2. by spreading the form across multiple pages that require the user to progress through several page refreshes to accomplish a single task.Neither option presents an efficient or ideal user experience and often can leadto abandonment of the whole process. With RIA technologies, developers haveadditional options to improve upon this situation. Input areas can expand andcontract on a single page as needed. For example, the developer can design theweb page to expand one section of inputsay, billing address informationandthen contract it to a smaller size once data entry is complete. In this fashion, thepages real estate is maximized to allow the user to enter information sans pagerefreshes and scrolling. Gap.com Everyone, it seems, talked about Gap.comsQuickLook consumerpreference-based pop-upsand the My Bag drop-down windows when the AJAX-revamped retailer site launched last year. Checking out was never so much fun.Related to gathering information, RIA technologies enable a business totake advantage of a broader set of input types, far beyond the basic HTMLinput types like text boxes, drop downs and radio buttons. This becomes veryimportant when businesses have more specialized data input needs. For example,it might be advantageous (and intuitive for the user) to be able to drag-and-dropitems from one section on the page to a specialized input field or select a date www.resource.com2009 Resource Interactive. All rights reserved. 5. from a calendar view instead of typing out the date itself. These input types are consistent and expected in desktop applications (Excel, Outlook, Quicken, etc.) and now can be enabled on the web via RIA technologies. Similarly, developers are also able to create the web application to handle more of the data validation on the client-sidechecking data without going back to the web serverand providing instant feedback about data entry errors to users as they input information. This is especially helpful when businesses are either capturing large amounts of information or there are interdependencies between the information being entered. rbkrunning.comOn rbkrunning.com,a Resource Interactive- designed 100% Flash-based microsite inspired by the velocity and enthusi- asm of the running lifestyle,the Customize Your Run section uses sliders asinputs to accommodate user-provided preferences. Employing RIA technologies can shorten or simplify multi-step processes. Some of the best examples of this can be seen in various product configurators. Products with many options (colors, sizes, styles, finishes, etc.) can be configured without page refreshes or without stepping through multiple pages normally required by HTML-only sites. This is accomplished with RIA technology by not only caching the options required by the configurator but also caching the inter- dependencies between the options. For example, some styles of your product might have colors that are unavailable in other styles, so the colors can be suppressed or displayed based on this logic without requiring a trip back to the web server to look up this information. www.resource.com 2009 Resource Interactive. All rights reserved. 6. VWfeatures.com Shopping for a newVW GTI is almost as fun as driving one, with aconfigurator that locks and loads a consumers choice of parts and accessories,then takes the resulting car for a joyride with a blonde bombshell.When Not To Employ RIA TechnologiesWhile there are many advantages to employing RIA technologies, thereare situations when this is not appropriate for your organization or project.Organizational constraints, the purpose of your web site and the needs of yourparticular audience/customer should influence your decision about whether todevelop your web site using RIA technologies and techniques, and, if so, just howexpansive their usage should be. Some of the considerations to take into account: HTML is still the best choice when presenting non-interactive text. There is littleor no advantage in leveraging RIA technologies to do what HTML does best. Staticpages, including press releases, reports and news articles, can be best served bysticking wi

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