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The de-buzzification of AJAX

By Andrew Pollack on 05/10/2005 at 11:11 PM EDT

Everyone's talking about AJAX now. The level of attention this is getting is more indicative of the herd mentality of JavaScript UI programmers than it is of anything particularly amazing about the technology. Apparently, everyone has spent so much time and effort stealing JavaScript from their favorite websites (the preferred method for getting a new technique) that not enough people have been really considering what they're doing in the context of the language.

The heart of AJAX turns out to be an object called "XMLHttpRequest" -- its built into Firefox and Safari, and its an Active-X in IE. You can get all the details here but the long and short of it, is that it lets you make an html request in the background from the browser, and process those results as an event on the web page. That means based on a menu selection, text entry, or whatever, you can hit the server for data, and change things on the page -- without a page reload or refresh.

I've seen this done in the past, but always with a java applet that gets downloaded and runs in the background. Thomas Gumz makes good use of this in the Domino Administrator Client for the web browser (a great application, btw) and of course iNotes and Google are high profile uses of this technique. And that's exactly my point -- its a technique, making use of a poorly (perhaps on purpose) documented feature of the web browser. Its not a new language. Its not a new standard. Its not new at all.

Don't get me wrong, I think its great stuff. Its just not revolutionary.

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My own thoughts on this are...By Lance Spellman on 05/24/2005 at 01:11 PM EDT
I meant to mention something on this topic at the Penumbra meeting last
weekend. The phenomena of "naming". I agree with your analysis of AJAX, it
describes a set of techniques that people have been doing for awhile. But now
it has a NAME, someone coined a NAME for the technique. And that's very
significant in this day of browser searches. Before AJAX, if you were looking
to research this area, you might try dynamic pages or XMLHttpRequest, who
knows. But as soon as there is a consensus label...look out, now there's a
flood of info. And guess what, the guy who coins the phrase gets top billing.

I've seen another recent example of this with the term "screencasting". This
is a name for making movies of GUI demos and then posting to a web page
(blog). From first hand experience, I know many people have been using these
techniques for awhile and how difficult it was to find information on the web
for "how to" and tools. Now that the technique has a name, it's a piece of
cake. And guess who gets top billing on this term...the guy who coined the

Lesson learned: If you come up with something cool, be sure to write about it
and give it a NAME so google can find it. You can be the leader for a whole
new industry.

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