AJAX: Not Just Pixies and Fairy Dust
I need this page to have more pazazz, more pop, more wow!
Yes, you’ve probably heard someone say it at some point. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. In today’s Web 2.0 world, pages need to pop, especially if you’re marketing toward the younger generations. In fact, just the other day I was discussing design trends for Higher Education with a few colleagues over lunch at the BackYard Grill & Bar in Fond du Lac, WI. Someone mentioned showing two designs to a particular student. One design had a very old-looking interface, but worked completely. The other was new and flashy, yet didn’t have all the features the first one did. Immediately that student said he/she would prefer the flashy, new site and probably wouldn’t even spend enough time on the old-looking site to figure out what it did.
AJAX isn’t just for flashy, feel good transitions. It can be used for so much more, and knowing its capabilities can help determine the right times to use it without regard to the WOW factor.
One of the main things you’ll see AJAX used for is database updates. You may not realize that’s what it’s doing, but lets take an example most everyone is familiar with: Updating statuses on facebook. Every time you update your status on facebook, you’re making an AJAX request. The old way of doing updates like this would be to post the whole page to a new page load. That means that for every status update someone does, the server has to handle the request, reprocess the page, and then serve the page to the user. On average, that’s about 500Kb (1/2mb) of data each status update and about 1 second of load time for your average cable modem connection. Multiply that by the 250 million users and you’ve got a lot of data to serve to people!
So there you have it. One great reason why using AJAX is not just to make the Web a prettier place but a faster place as well.
The other thing we should mention about AJAX is the first A: asynchronous. The way the web worked before this was linear. If you wanted to do something, it had to be done one thing after another. But now being able to have asynchronous requests, you can fire off more than one thing at a time! I know, pretty amazing, right? You can click on three links in a row that all fire off an AJAX request and have them running together at once, saving you time. And we could all use a bit more time on our hands.