A perfect storm for rich Internet apps

A perfect storm for rich Internet apps

Summary: The latest craze among the search/shopping/mapping/community etc. portals is look-alike personalized pages.

TOPICS: Browser

The latest craze among the search/shopping/mapping/community etc. portals is look-alike personalized pages. Access to news, e-mail, stock quotes, buddies, RSS subscriptions from a single dashboard. The current fashion is the bare bones interface, shorn of any unnecessary graphics and with some basic configuration capabilities. Unadorned simplicity is good, but with broadband speeds and technologies like Flash is the stripped down interface what users really need or want for their "home" pages?  Or, is it just what  they are given, and what has historically worked for Yahoo and Google, which were build on basic HTML search interfaces.

MyYahoo personalized page


Google personalized home page


We have access to all kinds of rich media that should be accessible in personalized pages, not just as links. Corporate portals, for example, present dashboards with all kinds of vital data and widgets that allow you to run a business from a few screenfuls of information. Web map applications from Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are becoming highly enriched and interactive.

A perfect storm is brewing for new kinds of personalized interfaces and applications that meld various media types and give users far more control over what is on their dashboard. You should be able to drag and drop widgets--your e-mail, stock portfolio, contacts, business metrics, feeds, playlists, TV shows, all within a standards-based browser environment. You should be able to perform tasks and interact without having to stray far from your personalized page.  Laszlo Systems, for instance, has an open source platform for creating dashboards and rich Internet applications.

Prototype Laszlo dashboard


I'm not advocating that we should abandon the unadorned interface, but if broadband and media convergence are upon us, the sites with millions of users should at least give them the option of a rich Internet experience...

Topic: Browser

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  • Easy to Forget

    Broadband penetration just crossed 50% not too long ago. It's still
    wise to make them lean/mean.
    Rich intranet dashboards don't have to worry about it except for
    remote users.
  • That's rich

    Ah, there's a phrase we haven't heard for a while: "rich internet experience." Probably because the Chief Software Architect at the company that coined the phrase is now old enough to need bifocals.

    See how "rich" your "internet experience" is when the Flash page design doesn't let you change font size or adjust colors for better contrast.

    Simplicity has other benefits besides download speed.
    Yagotta B. Kidding

    Great article! The real debate is really a tale of two powerful "bulls" in this field pushing against each other constantly for supremacy in the fight over who wins the web design debate.

    Those two "bulls" are rick media interface design with simpler and more interactive interfaces and less textual information versus very informational, text-based experiences that are highly usable and purposeful. This "war" has been raging sice the web was born and its still going with no resolution in site.....back and forth. Even though this article seems to describe solutions by certain verndors where informational design is beginning to dominate (as it did in the middle nineties), rich media is going to, again, very soon, push back for LESS text and more media in web design, when we see what Avalon and other frameworks offer us.

    But its a very complex problem and no one or no design shop I would say has ever solved this problem! Its funny, but some of the best, most expensive and gorgous web experiences I've ever seen, created by the world's top designers (ie 2advanced, etc.) have flat out failed in terms of information and useablility, when they settled on large multimedia "experience-based" sites, like Flash. As those design got larger and more magnificent, those interfaces and animated media sites fell apart in the users eyes in every way but the visual stimulous provieded, and so got higher attrition rates and lower demographic usage and information utility as time went on. ROI by the companies that invested in these sites I would say was poor in nearly all the sites Ive worked on like tis, or clients Ive worked with who spent the hundreds of thousands investing in this kind of web product. Ive reprogrammed Flash Video and Communication interface sites that had the most amazing video and media implementations, but ended up failing due to people flat out abandoning the Flash site because of its slow, limited, uninformative, clunky behavior! The number of people today who look for "skip" buttons on Flash sites is huge and to me shows the failure rates of multimedia-based web sites across the board in solving the need for a growing and very diverse audience to find the information they seek in the sites of today. For entertainment, its great, but for managing real life data and getting information fast, they have HUGE failure rates. Some people have tried using JAVA applets, and other rich client solutions and now even xhtml with embedded media and only the hybrid sites that use both text and media in simpler but very limited combinations have had any success online and any staying power with the web user, from my experience.

    On the other end of the spectrum, information sites are very powerful when used with the new XHTML and CSS web standards that most browsers accept, and using xml, its quite possible to build very powerful and very fast, universally acceptable sites that serve multiple user types and media purposes. However, when we look at Yahoo wesay, "sure, they have had success with text-based sites, and I like using that site, but man, information overload and their site is butt-ugly, and ALWAYS HAS BEEN!" Why does it still work for some but for others it does not? Because they have sacrificed beautiful media interfaces for information and thus attracted a larger user base and their sites, like the Google text-based search links, have found much higher usability. BUt they have had to sacrifice good graphical interface design to do it, and thats a huge loss, as people want more media.
    So the problem remains here too, that at some point, we see information overload when you design web pages stripped of color and focused media areas and filled with link after link and news blurb after newsblurb, sprinkled endlessly across the page. Its a major problem in this type of design and allot of people are trying to figure out how to design sites and software that have LESS information overload and which predict the needs of the end-user by sending just the text they need, without having to flood our eyeballs with so much informational "nonsense-text". Text is incredibly usable and accessible by a wide range of groups and devices but the overload factor and lack of media focus means they can only take us so far. ANd these new products which showcase these tex-based interfaces with these dashboards doesnt solve much in my opinion. This design looks allot like the old bulletin boards of the pre-web. Its one step forward and two steps back!

    So, these two "bulls" will keep pushing back and forth and we will still see people designing sites around both ends of the spectrum but no one will learn anything new, I predict, until someone develops the next age of media exchange beyond the browser and the visual experience. I think the next frontier will lead us to a new concept of information exchange involving aural style sheets where the web sites speak to us in combination with less text and limited interactivity WE control and configure using our own "user style sheets", and then some kind of division between the video interface, text interface, and image interface design skins we set up that allows us to all give the user the power to control not just the look, but the "type" of information instance required for each information type found in a site. We will be need to be able to do this from the browser...not the web site's tools, and on the fly, then quickly move back and forth between hybrids combining the two layout types (text and media)in combinations. Web sites can no longer make the assumption that how the designer laid out the html tables is how we have to view that information and structure. THose people that are now using XHTML and CSS are one step closer to that dream but companies like Microsoft are still keeping most shops in the dark ages using their products which build on HTML and tables. Yuck!!!

    But when the future comes, it will no longer be a marketable web we have but one where information is regularly stripped from sites by our choosing and dropped in combinations into our own central layout system. Why should any body care top see someones web design any longer, when they just need the information? Think about it?

    The new CSS model and xml models will allow that but we have a LONG way to go getting browsers like Internet Explorer to first-base with basic standardized CSS support (ie IE 7??). Its the vendors who design these agents that are holding us all back...
  • that's rich

    more flashing boxes, means less time spent on what it is you came for in the first place, peace, and place to catch up with information that you have decided in advance that you need.

    We have become a society that abhors intrusion, especially by advertisers. Check out the popularity of MP3's, the real lure is the lack of advertising and some jack@ss dj screaming at a volume louder than the music. I believe that this would explain why "rich media" sites and interfaces have less of a following than those that are plain jane.

    A newspaper doesn't blink, spin, or bob, it is usually very plain, with advertisements, that's what I want to deal with first thing in the morning. By the way, many of the users that I know, have no idea how to drag and drop anything, let alone content. It will be awhile before those skills become more universal.
  • Laszlo Systems worth a look

    As I read some of the other reviews, I just wonder if the reviewers spent any time looking at the actual product. The product is Open Laszlo, by Laszlo Systems (www.laszlosystems.com). Their product is interesting in that it is a blend of Flash, Javascript, and XML. And they list a couple of well-known commercial sites utilizing their technology.

    Yes, Flash is traditionally SLOW. But Open Laszlo is an attempt at a combination of Flash and other technologies to give the user a crisp experience while utilizing back-end processes to keep the application responsive. The concept of not having to reload the entire page everytime a user clicks on something, without using HTML Framesets, is interesting.

    Is their product right for every situation...probably not. But their product, as with any product, should not be praised or ridiculed based on the underlying technology alone without a thorough review of how it works in practice.

    I'm currently in the process of reviewing the product for my own personal needs. And based on my findings, will then consider whether it makes sense for use at my place of work.