On Ajax and Marketing Technologies

Published in News, Rants and Ephemera on Monday, February 28th, 2005

A couple of weeks ago, Jesse James Garrett wrote an article about Asynchronous JavaScript + XML where he outlined and defined this group of technologies that is taking the internet by storm. What's this? New you say? Hardly, why I've been doing this for years and I didn't have a fancy name for it...

When the word made it over to Slashdot about the article, lets just say there was an uproar. Huh, it seems that this xmlHTTPRequest object has been around a while and that people have been using remote scripting for some time. Good for them.

Can't... keep... quiet...

While I was going to bite my lip about this one, I couldn't help but say something after Jeffrey Veen, a founding partner of Adaptive Path, stepped up with Doing it first versus doing it right, where he puts Dave Winer in his place about a topic unrelated to Ajax or xmlHTTPRequest. The little gem in his post for me, though, is the following:

...Alexander Graham Bell -- he was far from the inventor of the telephone, but became known as such for his ability to bring a marketable product to the business community.

Now as far as I can tell, the good folks at Adaptive Path are doing something similar. This from the comments of the aforementioned post, Jeffrey goes on to say:

Our industry clearly has been built on pure technological innovation, and those innovators should be (and usually are) rewarded with credit and cash. But to diminish the innovation that brings technology to market -- understanding an audience, determining their needs, creating an experience that is delightful, empowering, and profitable -- to diminish that is short-sighted.

Going mainstream

There is no doubt that remote scripting has been around for a while, and that developers have been using it. However, things like Gmail, Google Suggest and Google Maps have brought this technology into the mainstream focus, and certainly there is going to be a bigger market now for this kind of work.

Who'se going to bring it?

Sure the technology has been there a while, but if the tree falls in the middle of the forest and no one is there to hear it? You get the idea.

So the market is there, now someone needs to bring this technology to the market. Mr. Garrett and his friends are doing just this. How? For starters, now that the technology is hot, it could use a couple of things:

  1. As Jason Fried mentions, it's nice to give this group of technologies a name.
  2. By boiling it down to "Ajax" and putting up some nice diagrams they are (in Jeffrey Veen's words) humanizing it.

The Zen Master - Another example

The CSS Zen Garden is a similar example. No, Dave Shea didn't invent CSS, nor was he using it on a large mainstream site, but the Garden helped to bring CSS to the web development world.

And so many more

There are so many more examples like this out there, think Xerox-PARC or Apple.

Sometimes things can be done better, like the iPod to the mp3 player world, and they tip, and other times ideas just need to be publicized to catch on, like Sliding Doors or Faux Columns, for example.

Its all about marketing

Web design and development (even that black-sheep subset, SEO), is all about marketing - it's about building something for an end user and delivering it to a market.

When someone markets an item, they market it to people, to a specific group of people. Building technology (or whatever) is simply a step in a process, helping people understand the technology is another step, and that is what Adaptive Path has done.

Over 205 hits from Google to the links and resources for xmlhttprequest + Ajax examples this weekend tells me that the word is getting out and people are curious.

Comments and Feedback

It is marketing that you'll have to drag me, kicking and screaming, to adopt. Garrett renaming XmlHttpRequest in order to stake Adaptive Path's claim to a meme strikes me as akin to astroturfing.

He even had to wake "asynchronous javascript" from the dead to arrive at his new term. (only 24 hits on Google).

I don't say "B2B", I don't say "enterprise", I don't say "synergy", and I'm not gonna say "Ajax" either.

You can have my awkward, yet not conceived by some consultant hot for mindshare, terms when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.

Hey Jon, thanks for commenting. Those are some great terms you dug up there! I never did like B2B, ever since that guy who was doing B2B "back in the day" used it about 30 times over a half hour coffee :-)

But don't you feel that marketing is in fact what you do?

Interface and web designer from Austin, Texas.

You design an interface for a user. What if you were to replace the words "target market" for the term "user"?

I know it's not quite the same issue that I was touching on above, but I feel that we are all marketing, and it's just that some of us have different roles in the whole scheme of the developing and marketing of a product.

What I think happened over on /. was that the hard core developers got miffed when someone a little closer to the marketing department digested the whole concept and spit it out in an easier to use format.

I'm quite happy to see remote scripting finally get some high profile recognition. I've made very good use of it for years and I don't feel my efforts are diminished at all by other people coming along and repackaging it. As long as they're not claiming some intellectual property right to methods that have long been in use, they're welcome to brand and market it as they please. I certainly didn't claim ownership of the techniques when I built my popular JSRS library, I simply built an implementation that filled a need.

I do think it's a little surprising when I see articles on remote scripting techniques that present themselves as a complete treatment of the subject yet don't reference any of the small handful of people and sites that have over the years been the main sources of information on Remote Scripting, however I usually feel it's a reflection on the completeness of their research or their restricted view of tools and toolsets rather than a rejection of the available information.

Now that I'm involved in a company that over the last 2-1/2 years has gone from idea to implementation to office to employees, I would not for a second deny the remarkable energy it takes to turn a concept into a product. As I have often stood on the shoulders of every hacker before me, I am only too glad to let others stand on mine to reach the bottom rung of that very steep ladder.

Bringing some technology to the masses (by giving cool names) can be only good for developers who already mastered this particular technique.

Hey Brent, great comments.

Last night I was digesting the stuff at your site to pop it into the links I have for RS/Ajax/xmlHttp and was amazed that you've been at this for so long (as long as I've been building sites it looks like).

To me that really says something, that in fact the high profile recognition is due.

Marko, I'm not so sure that is true. Take CSS for example, while helping to bring it to the masses has been good for the people who have done so, it's been great for the whole community of people who adopted CSS.

So now that I am acutely aware of remote scripting, I can, as Brent says, stand on the shoulders of every hacker before me: off I go ;-)

To be clear, while I talk generally about anyone being welcome to build on anything I do, I'm not specifically suggesting that I'm an ancestor of this particular Ajax thing or that I'm owed any credit, although I was certainly among those whose voices echoed together in the discussions that preceded its popularity.

I think Erik Hatcher (http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/library/wa-resc/?dwzone=web), Scott Andrew LePera (http://www.scottandrew.com/xml-rpc/) and Eric Costello (http://developer.apple.com/internet/webcontent/iframe.html) each did a great service to the web development community by lending their credibility to the discussion via publishing in respected and very visible places.

Remote Scripting's ongoing development has been a community effort. The complete credits would take a while to roll by.

I hated the term Ajax at first and I still cringe when one of my clients use it, but I have to agree with the statement that there's something to be said about humanizing the technology.

Come on, we all know this stuff has been around for ages. It's great for it to get some publicity, especially when it softens to opposition to doing cool things for your clients who might not be so cutting edge.

In the past month I've personally sold some less-than-perfect clients of mine on using XMLHttpRequest because "Google's doing it". Some people are really scared to try a technology that's unproven to them.

Sad but true...

I'm not so sure that is true. Take CSS for example, while helping to bring it to the masses has been good for the people who have done so, it's been great for the whole community of people who adopted CSS.

Ups, sorry—my comment was more about jealous developers, who now (conditionally said) ‘hate’ new cool names for old technologies.

But don't you feel that marketing is in fact what you do?

I solve problems. Some, but not all, are marketing problems. Marketing has its place. I just have a curmudgeonly aversion to buzzwords.

10 points for the use of curmudgeonly ;-)

Now all that's needed for this "new" stuff is a little orange book.

Argg, these people (with no contact methods onsite) seem to have missed the point.

There is no pooh-poohing happening here ;-)

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