On “Web 2.0”

There’s a lot of talk about the so-called Web 2.0 at the moment, and I’m in two minds about what I think.

On the one hand, as a geek who used to be involved in publishing, “new” almost de facto equates to “exciting”. It could genuinely be the Web is metamorphosing from rather dull dumb-terminals sending and receiving screenfulls of data – just like the IBM MVS terminals I used to use in 1988 – to a rich, asynchronous, application-like environment.

On the other hand, I have two worries. The first is my natural scepticism (some might say “cynicism”) about the hype. It seems to me like a new venture capital orgy is being prepared. The bubble is being inflated by pompous and largely empty buzzworks like “folksonomy”, “social networking”, “tag clouds” and others brilliantly satirised on the Go Flock Yourself blog. And where are the business models?

A bubble that subsequently bursts damages us all, and makes us all look like idiots when the trillions of dollars promised to Californian bankers fails to materialise.

I also worry about accessibility. It strikes me that people are so busy adding extra Ajax loveliness that the separate stripped-down “html-only” versions they offer are unthinkingly accepted as a legitimate sop to people with disabilities. We reject separate “text-only sites” in Web 1.0 ; why should we accept them in “Web 2.0”?

Don’t misunderstand me here. I love Google’s maps, gmail etc, and have never believed that accessibility means bringing everything down to the lowest common denominator. Truly creative and thoughful coding will ensure graceful degradation of the “rich user experience”, not banish those without JavaScript to the basement.

But in the rush to “Ajaxify” everything (regardless of whether it actually serves a useful purpose other than saying “ooh look at me I’m web 2.0 too!”), the majority of developers are not properly thinking through the accessibility ramifications.

Some notable exceptions exist, of course. The DOMscripting task force have it on their radar. Jeremy Keith is a champion of respectful, creative DOMscripting that degrades well. In his excellent book “DOMscripting” (which I’m trying to find he time to review) he advocates using a technique he calls “Hijax” – making sure the app works without JavaScript, and then adding the Ajax layer afterwards.

He writes,

Personally, I would like to see Ajax used in the same way that any other kind of DOMscripting should be used: as an enhancement to, rather than a requirement of, the user experience. I would like to see the idea of Hijaxing applied to pages elements like feedback forms and shopping carts.

This is so vital that I’m going to do something that I never do and recommend something that I haven’t actually attended: a Hijax training course in London on February 10th. It’s very expensive, but if you’re thinking of building “Web 2.0” DOMscript applications, you need to learn, and practice, Hijax now. If you don’t, then it doesn’t matter how well your pages validate – your sites are as pernicious in their own way as all those crappy 1990’s DHTML tricks. And you’ll be part of the problem that the Web Standards movement has tried to hard to solve.

I have no connection, financial or otherwise, with clear:left or Jeremy Keith’s training course. Though I wouldn’t say no to a free ticket ๐Ÿ˜‰

12 Responses to “ On “Web 2.0” ”

Comment by Jeremy Keith

The cheque is in the mail, Bruce. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Seriously though, I do share your concerns about the whole Web 2.0 thing. Then again, doesn’t everybody? I mean, it seems that everyone I talk to says they’re in two minds about it. I have yet to talk to anyone who thinks that Web 2.0 (or at least the term) is 100% A Good Thing.

Now, with Ajax, the situation is somewhat different. Some people do seem to view it as a cure-all. There really is a danger of monkey see, monkey do when people (especially decision makers) look at the latest cool Ajax app. The problem is that the flagship Ajax apps (like, as you said, Gmail and Google Maps) are all about the “enhanced user experience” as long as that hypothetical user is fully-abled (technologically and physically).

Whether we like it or not, big name sites (such as anything from Google) are role models. I wish people would think more instead of blindly rushing to copy the actions of the big players, but I guess it doesn’t even cross most people’s minds that they themselves could do something better than a big company like Google!

Remember, how great it was for CSS when Wired News redesigned? It serves as a model of best practices that we could point our bosses to and say, “that’s how to do it!” It would be nice if there were a similar standard bearer for gracefully degrading Ajax.

In the meantime, I’ll be doing my bit with the training course, where I promise not to rant and rave like someone at Speaker’s Corner. Thanks for the plug.

Comment by Matt

Hey Bruce, have you see the Web 2.0 Validator? Made me chuckle.

My thoughts are along a similar line to yours. As long as it degrades gracefully then we’re OK. The minute is puts a big “thou shalt not enter” sign up, then we’re on the road back to the bad old days.

The solution, as always, is educating the developers and the decision makers. Hopefully I’ll soon have some tutorials on DMXZone doing the first part. 2nd part is trickier.

-Matt

Comment by Lachlan Hunt

The web 2.0 bubble will most certainly burst once everyone wakes up and realises that it’s nothing more than a completely useless buzzword that has absolutely no clearly defined meaning (the web2.0validator is a perfect illustration of that fact). It’s even more useless than the “AJAX” buzzword because at least its meaning if fairly well defined, even if it does just describe techniques that have been used for years.

I fully agree with your accessibility concerns, but what chance have we got when the biggest “AJAX” and “Web 2.0” examples (google maps, gmail, etc.) mostly ignored accessibility. Personally, I like Google maps interface, but I really dislike the way it was constructed with no graceful degradation in mind at all.

Comment by nortypig

Yes the key words are “used as an enhancement” and “graceful degradation”. The last thing anyone really needs is an inaccessible application rich web, anyone sane and fair anyway.

There will always be a lot of businesses cashing in on it with the wrong attitude though just like we can’t stop people making JavaScript reliant navigation schemes without fallback for non JS users. So I agree its a worry.

Comment by Proclub

Has anyone seen the NoScript extension download numbers on http://extensions.mozilla.org/ ? It’s among the top 10!

I wonder if anyone doing sites for the general public may rely solely uppon *script. In fact, I write all my sites to be fully usabe without script languages, Flash and plugins.

Comment by Troels Wittrup

Well, if want to learn, I recommend you start getting your hands dirty ๐Ÿ™‚

The source code for OutPost is available for anyone to download.

OutPost is an AJAX Framework that AJAX-enables ASP.NET web forms. The method is Hijaxing and it is 99% degradable.

OutPost communicates with the client-browser through a web service.
OutPost performs a real postback locally on the web server.
Only the HTML that is different is sent back to the client.

OutPost home

Comment by bruce

I don’t think you understood my article; I’m all for new, interactive pages, and all for community (WordPress, blogger etc have enabled squillions of people to publish, comment and interact without knowing or caring about html, tcl/ip etc). But there’s nothing inherently “2.0” about community; how long have slashdot, metafilter etc been going? They’re hardly poster children for the “Web 2.0” crew.

What I object to is the marketing bollocks – in the same way that objecting to the stupidities of 1999 didn’t make you anti-Web, just anti-bullshit.

Slapping a tagcloud, large pastel fonts and some Ajax lovliness on random site x does not indicate a new paradigm. What it does indicate, in the cases I point out above, is bankruptcy of imagination and an anti-Web paradigm.

Locking out people with disabilities because of ill-thoughtout Ajax is not Web 2.0. It’s Web 1.0

Comment by Chief Apricot for non-profits

Good write-up.
The flock yourself blog seem to be gone forever – any idea if there is a new reincarnation?

Accessibility is a big issue for Web 2.0 – actually for all modern web apps. As we are working on our very own Web 2.0 app (Wild Apricot – web software for non-profits, associations etc.) we had to make a decision about accessibility. Unfortunately, we could not afford to make the system backend support all the accessibility standards because it would mean two or three times more coding (not 10% or 25% – and I am NOT exaggerating). Creating interactive AND usable interfaces is very hard – and I do not know if many developers can manage to do it on their own. Development frameworks and browsers have to help too.
By the way – one more significant concern is security. Ajax brings more security problems to the table and a lot of developers do not have the expertise to do anything but slap together some library code – and leave the site totally exposed.

Comment by Bruce

So, you’ve decided to be “Web 2.0” and abandon accessibility? How does that sit with the faith-based organizations, social welfare organizations and health issues organizations you market your product to, as a matter of interest?

Comment by Jet

I’ve been experimenting with various collaboration & document sharing tools and have discovered an excellent site. It is a very user friendly, web-based application that is well worth taking the time to explore. Take a few minutes and look at Projjex.com. The tutorials are excellent & you don’t need to be a Rocket Scientist to figure out how to use it. It even offers a free version so you can try it on for size.

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