Web 2.0 Has its Consequences


When people want to find information, they don’t care how well it’s packaged. They care more about:

  • Is it easy to find?
  • Is it accurate?
  • Is it simple to read?

Web 2.0 is a buzzword that almost makes me want to vomit. What gets me is the complete lack of understanding and responsibility when it comes to reinventing the usability model of a web interface. By “usability” I mean “things that people expect from a web site”.

Technologies such as Flash or JavaScript can compeltely alter web site behavior through manipulation of the DOM. I typically approach these technologies as only necessary when you have extra time to create value-added user experiences. This means that if you stripped these items out, the site should still be understandable and would work for anybody using a modern browser that supported HTML standards.

Web 2.0 is completely misunderstood on two fronts:

  • It’s not just AJAX. Get over AJAX.
  • It’s more than Flock, Flickr, Gmail or Google maps.

Myth #1 is that if you plug AJAX into your site you are Web 2.0 and you will be greeted in outer space by 72 virgins, etc. Please give me a break already. Most people misuse AJAX, because they don’t take responsibility for recreating the usability model of Web 1.0 (or whatever you want to call it) and create asynchronous pages that have no context.

Case in point — say you are on your homepage and you use an AJAX operation to request data for the current page. You decide suddenly that you messed up your page and you want to go back. Well, most of the time, there is no back. Because your browser isn’t aware of the change in state.

To be fair, it could be, but most browsers aren’t. I’m not sure if they should be. The fact of the matter is that people became used to a standard for viewing web pages and that is endangered by the media buzz surrounding Web 2.0.

And shame on the media — and their followers. Again, they have blown things out of proportion and have left caution to the wind. The Web 2.0 ideology truly surrounds a user-centric approach to information sharing versus a server-centric or website-centric approach. It’s a new way of thinking that puts the user at the center of the internet universe.

This doesn’t doesn’t equate to riddling web pages with unnecessary scripting that takes advantage of The Next Best Thing just because Slashdot had some bullshit article about why it was cool.

Myth #2 is that using AJAX can easily make your site this wonderfully dynamic web application. People don’t realize that Gmail and Google maps are very complex, and they go through painstaking lengths to reinvent the common web interface using JavaScript. All of their efforts are put into preserving familiarity and client state. Normal operations and functions of a web browser are reinvented. Imagine having to reimplement:

  • A back button.
  • The address bar.
  • A forward button.
  • A refresh button.

Arguably, you may not successfully be able to reimplement all of these with today’s browsers in a “Web 2.0” application. Still worth it? Maybe. It depends on what your users need. Oh yes — the users.

Overall, Web 2.0 is mostly about making better use of standards that do exist (which, ironically, is almost what AJAX is — although it’s not treated as such). It’s about creating sites that make sense, use less words, and utilize existing technologies to their fullest potential.

In the end, I’m not saying AJAX is bad — it has great uses. Flash and other plug-ins also have their place amont the web elite. But as far as Web 2.0 goes, the best thing you could probably do is assume responsibility for what the hell you are doing and truly consider the best experience for your users.

Oddly enough, it doesn’t always mean overcomplicating things. Most of the time it means cutting down on the fluff and just delivering the goods. If anything, it’s shortening the path between any user and what they need.

All the fancy Flash and JavaScript in the world can’t make up for shitty content.