Matt Voerman, a colleague of mine at Adobe has been running a series titled RIA Motivators where he dissects the reasoning behind wanting to create rich internet applications. This is something I think a lot of people are still struggling with. James Governor has mentioned often that he likes del.icio.us and that the minimalist approach works perfectly for him. I understand that and I think del.icio.us would make a poor choice for an RIA.
But the fact remains that applications on the web are becoming more sophisticated than del.icio.us. Not everything can be broken down into text boxes and characters. That's one of the main reasons RIAs are getting so much attention - the web is evolving and we're starting to build applications that can benefit from a better experience.
That's where Matt's series is going. In part 1 he breaks down the user experience reasons for adopting an RIA strategy. He ties it to the overall design of the application, the possibility for personalization in the application and finally how productivity can be increased with good design. In part 2 he gets into Web 2.0 specific benefits for RIAs including improving the notion of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). This is another point I think gets lost. As our ability to expose data increases and the data we expose becomes more complex, the ability to bring that data into a rich internet application provides tangible benefits. Well designed RIAs make it easier to deal with data in everything from a mashup to a complex data entry application.
If your RIA strategy is well thought out, you'll be able to expose all of these principles in a variety of touch points. The major RIA platforms all offer hooks into mobile devices, the browser, the desktop, and other devices such as video games or set top boxes. So while the majority of Web 2.0 applications currently reside inside the browser, the web is much, much bigger. RIAs can give you a usability-enhancing richness across a number of touch points that all tie back to your systems. That's a great thing to be able to give your users.