Ajaxian blog

Thursday 23 June 2005This is more than 18 years old. Be careful.

In case you aren’t in the web design field, or have been living under a rock, there’s this implementation technique called Ajax, an acronym for Asynchronous Javascript And Xml. Google Maps is its best-known showcase, providing a great fluid experience that does all sorts of things that sites like Mapquest and MSN Maps can’t do (dragging, resizing, etc).

Now we have Ajaxian Blog, a blog devoted to all things Ajax. Basically, Ajax is inspiring a renaissance in the construction of web applications, and Ajaxian is helping to track it all.

The current explosion in Ajax use is a bit of a mystery to me. I understand why people are jazzed about it, but why did it take so long? The tools have been lying around for ages. I worked at Blue Ripple where Mark Judd and Mike McGlynn were basically doing all of this stuff in 2000-2001. Is there something new that enables this explosion of use, or was the time just right for everyone to catch on? Maybe Google showing it off to such good effect has lit a fire under everyone. I don’t mean to sound like an old grouch, I just wonder if I missed something: is there something truly new about Ajax?

» 7 reactions


Back in 2000 we built an entire drag-and-drop interface for content management and site monitoring that we used within Lycos. The GUI was all Javascript and DHTML and we even used the "the server might send you new class definitions from time to time to redefine the basic functionality within a single sesson" hack. So from that perspective there's little new under the sun.

But even a curmudgeon has to admit that the Google implementations (GMail, Google Maps) are particularly sweet.
I wonder if it has something to do with XmlHTTPRequest originally being only a Microsoft thing. I don't know when other browsers begain implementing it, but I do seem to remember advice againt DHTML from the cross-browser advocates some years ago. I have the impression that XmlHTTPRequest still isn't in any official standard other that Microsoft's but I could be incorrect.

The reason why it died out after 1999-2000 was the popularity of IE. I had no problems building crazy asynchronous DHTML shit with NN4, but damned if it could work cross-browser at that time.

I think everyone simply gave up and reverted to simpler HTML (or Flash) as DHTML had a tendency to crash browsers if it worked at all. Nobody noticed that "web 2.0" was a reality until Google showed us that this stuff is actually relatively stable and cross-browser now.

Bob Ippolito is correct.
Specifically, it's the fact that back then you had to make sure your sites worked in Netscape and IE - so anything that was IE only was a big no-no.

Now you have to make sure they work in Firefox and IE so anything that works on both is fine.

So, we have Firefox to thank really.
It's all thanks to Mozilla's implementation of XMLHttpRequest, and some faith/guts from the people at google that this technology actually has a use outside of intranets. Of course it was possible to do ajax years ago but it wasn't easy to write shared code, now, of course, it's so much easier and much more fun.

There has always been another way to acheive dthml client server interaction but that relied on invisible frames. Admittedly it was stable but by no means was it pleasant.
... and it caused a cacaphony of clicks in Internet Explorer whenever you changed a frame's location or dynamically created a bunch of frames. (The early versions of MSXML, since replaced by XmlHTTPRequest, were unreliable and version-incompatible. Great for intranets, not so good for public sites.)
My theory: it's been around for a long time, and some very smart people knew about it, but they weren't exactly going out of their way to explain it to other people, were they? Look at IBM Lotus' iNotes. It's been around for a number of years now (though until recently it was IE-only), and the code has been compacted into a dense and essentially unreadable format all along. A lot of people knew that it was retrieving XML on the fly, but few people dared dig into the code to figure out how, and nobody published an explanation. The Google code is similarly dense, but Google is "cool" and Google is visible to a much larger audience of geeks, therefore it was pretty much inevitable that enough people were going to put in the effort to take apart the code and see what makes it tick. And even though the initial published explanations showed sample code that wasn't robust enough for true asynch use it, was good enough to get the point across.

Add a comment:

Ignore this:
Leave this empty:
Name is required. Either email or web are required. Email won't be displayed and I won't spam you. Your web site won't be indexed by search engines.
Don't put anything here:
Leave this empty:
Comment text is Markdown.