One of the things that will really help Rich Internet Applications take off is when people see how they can take something they know and make it better. Cooqy does that for eBay. Cooqy is a RIA website developed by Robert Yeager that juices up eBay shopping as only Web 2.0 technology can. The OpenLaszlo-generated Flash user interface makes shopping on eBay more effective and fun.
Robert, a 20-year industry veteran, wrote his first eBay tool three years ago. He started with a .NET/C# Winform shopping tool that had to screen scrape eBay's website. When eBay recently opened up their web services, he started working on a web-based shopping tool for submission to the eBay Developer's Challenge 2006. After taking a look at AJAX, Flash and traditional web development platforms, he settled on OpenLazslo. According to him it was because it was a mature product as well as free and open source. OpenLaszlo's elegant XML-based programming model was a big plus and made for rapid development. Cooqy went from nothing to core functionality in 4 weeks of part time work.
Cooqy was carefully designed so that animation and audio were sparingly used to improve the eBay shopping experience, without excessive bells and whistles that Flash banner ads are notorious for. Although the richness of OpenLazslo gave Cooqy features that other HTML websites don't have, one potential downside was the initial download time of the Flash runtime. Fortunately, Cooqy weighs in at roughly 300KB, which is essentially equivalent to eBay's home page. After the thick client runtime is installed, subsequent surfing of eBay is faster than surfing eBay's own HTML website. Whereas a typical eBay item page is 100KB, Cooqy only sends 2KB of data to the browser. The runtime is stored in the browser cache and is only downloaded again when Cooqy is updated. Cooqy makes surfing eBay extremely fast for dial-up users.
One of the cool extras in Cooqy is the graphical mapping of item locations. The integrated Yahoo! map is actually an HTML IFRAME overlaid on top of the Flash canvas. It makes it very easy for buyers to check and see if they can just pick up the item locally instead of having to pay for shipping. Cooqy also provides a photo magnifier, which is great for stamp and other collectors. Screen real estate is maximized through the use of animated partitions, allowing up to 100 item photos to be viewed at once without scrolling. This is one way that RIAs excel at data visualization.
Cooqy supplements the eBay shopping experience with bargain-hunting search algorithms eBay doesn't provide, including just-listed Buy-It-Now items, no-reserve auctions about to expire with zero bids, and misspelled items. Cooqy is also exploring ways to utilize social tagging to augment eBay's flawed feedback system.
These are the kinds of applications that are going to make more people realize how great RIAs can be. They provide a much deeper, elegant user interface in a way that can permanently hook users. Cooqy shows us how it can be done with eBay and I have no doubt that we'll start to see some widely used Web 2.0 applications enhanced with RIA capabilities. The great thing about what's happening now is that web services and open platforms allow developers with creativity to run wild. RIA tools give them a powerful way show off that creativity and benefit users at the same time.