Last weeks issue of The Economist had a lengthy article about how important the emerging world is becoming to the global economy. The emerging world now accounts for over half of global economic output and is growing at a rapid pace. Part of the reason for this is that technology, including the web, have broken down the barriers to communication. It's relatively simple of a boy in rural India to visit an internet café and connect with the rest of the world. Whatever your thoughts on globalization are, recent technology has empowered people all over the world in a historic way.
So as technology matures, and more people flock to the web to communicate and become part of the global world, it's worth thinking about the impact of the applications they will be interacting with. This is an area that I think Rich Internet Applications will shine.
If you were to sit down in front of a computer and open a web application, say Gmail, for the first time, would you be able to figure out how it is supposed to work? Part of the reason many in the tech world love web applications in a browser is because they are very familiar with how a browser works. They understand the page model, the concept of a back button and how things are laid out on a page. But this knowledge is something that has been embedded in the minds of people who have been shown how the web browser works. Taken by itself, the web browser just isn't very intuitive. Now obviously the browser isn't hard to figure out, but if you can make the web more intuitive for people in a world that has 6 billion of them, taken as a net there are some significant productivity gains to be made.
With Rich Internet Applications, we can take all of the good things about the web, but wrap them in a much more intuitive experience. Taking the idea further, RIAs allow you to implement subtle cultural adaptations into your applications in a way that the restrictive browser model doesn't allow. People want to be creative and they want their web applications to show off that creativity. It may seem silly to think of the web as an art form when we're surrounded by the steel and silicon tech industry that has created it, but the web should be art. Artists should be able to harness its power.The browser is great for finding information, and I don't mean to imply that it is ever going to go away, but when it comes to web applications, a more free form model is going to engage the population at large. As the emerging world beings interacting with web applications, not having grown up or experienced life in a browser, they are going to be drawn to the applications that feel more intuitive and behave more like art. We can only get so far within a browser, but people are going to want to move farther. We can't draw on our familiarity with the browser to defend it because a good portion of the world doesn’t have that. Rich Internet Applications are a chance to start over, and build more engaging web applications.