The RIA is Dead, Long Live The RIA.


I’ve been talking to a lot of people at conferences and other events lately regarding RIA design and development. I’m noticing something. Maybe a trend, not sure yet. So, here it is. I feel silly talking about RIA as a separate type of app apart from the standard web app. It’s almost an unnecessary qualifier at this point. Roll with me on this for a moment if you will.

RIA as a term, as a mindset, as a bold new direction was needed when Jeremy Allaire wrote the white paper prior to the release of Flash MX (2002). Most web apps were staid, slow, and unwieldy. There was a new type of app percolating though. These were very different. They were rich, interactive, allowed for asynchronous communication between the client and the server increasing perceived responsiveness and enhancing the user experience. There needed to be a term applied to these new apps that were beginning to be concepted created and deployed. Thus, the birth of the RIA. I’ve written about this before.

Flash forward to 2009 and you’ll be pretty hard pressed to find any consumerized web apps that don’t have some layer of RIA tools or techniques being employed to enhance the UX. Nobody is blogging about the hottest new monolithic server side bean, dll etc that requires a maddening combination of Konami code-like query string mumbo jumbo delivered to it on a page refresh induced GET request. I’m pretty sure there isn’t some sort of Bizarro world of web design that is holding conferences with ugly Macs and stone faced developers talking like cavemen plotting to fill the world with crappy web apps and taking down Superman.

So, this begs the question… Is the term RIA needed anymore? What is it a unique qualifier against that makes it valid as a term? I would venture to guess… Nothing. Aren’t RIAs just IAs? Or maybe with the widespread use of cloud based apps and SaaS, they might just be As.

With this in mind, maybe it’s time to coin the next three letter acronym that is conference worthy. Let me take a couple stabs here.

  • “CIA” Context aware Internet Application: This app knows where you are, when you are and what you are seeking. The app experience scales, shifts and changs if you are mobile or on your desktop, and knows that on the day of your flight when you visit on your phone that you don’t care about buying tickets, but you might need a reminder on baggage requirements and which gate you should be looking for. This shift in app dev is just getting underway, but the actual context shift is largely done by user agent detection and crude URL hacks like subdomains, etc. Look for a big push in this in the next gen of apps, especially as more devices make location aware apps easier to deploy reliably. This acronym also has the benefit of making you sound like a badass spy.
  • “PIA” Personalizable Internet Application: Your iTunes experience is not mine. I haven’t ever bought a TV show. I don’t want to be promo’ed a TV show ever. Ever. You, on the other use iTunes to dl Jon Stewart, and have never heard of Crystal Castles, Peaches or LCD Soundsystem. You see where I am going with this. Personalized pages, portals and expereicnes based on use patterns and preferences. Apps that learn how to be better by tracking how you use them! Amazon is obviously a leader in this, but yeah, they have a huge database and an army of developers. Most people don’t. The algorithms to handle this sort of analytics and content filtering might just be the next wave of 3rd party APIs or cloud based web services to allow your smaller apps to apply these laws of large numbers and trending to a smaller 300-500 item SKU db using a larger sampling database to help with the metadata matchup. This acronym is also the airport code I fly out of, bonus.

So, what are your thoughts on this? Does the term RIA still stand up? Is it a valuable differentiator? How about the next big things in web app dev. Obviously things like persistant connections and binary services, push services etc are big and coming and game changing for certain reasons, but I’m not sure if they are as big of paradigm shifters as the RIA was.

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  1. Kevin May 19

    Great thoughts Chad. The term RIA is getting to the “Web 2.0″ status. You nailed it by saying we need to start looking for the next thing, pushing the envelope of experience, personalization and content delivery options/persistence.

    I think maybe the “IA” needs to be dropped altogether. The web, and even more generally, computers, are “Internet Applications” by design. Very few computing devices are not connected to the internet these days. I think we need to start thinking about what the services actually provide and what they can provide the user. Maybe something like “CPE” Content-aware Personal Experience. That’s just a first try, but I think you can see where I’m going with this. The experience and ubiquity are what matters. A consistent, customized experience with a service, no matter what device you use. I think Adobe is working on something like that… :)

  2. Leonard Souza May 19

    I don’t think it’s dead. What I believe you are doing is attempting to categorize new versions of interactive applications. It’s like a taxonomy; If IA could be considered the Family (Application for the Order), then RIA, CIA or PIA could fall within its Genus – siblings with the same roots. Granted, RIA is quite a general term, which could be construed as a family-type taxonomic Order.

    With all that said, I’ve never really liked the vernacular of RIA. I think a more accurate term is interactive experiences. Unfortunately the acronym IE has already been shot to hell. :)

  3. John Dowdell May 19

    The term was useful, particularly right after the Macromedia/Allaire joining, to distinguish these new types of apps from classic “web apps” (where fresh HTML is pushed down from the server after each user interaction).

    Unlike “Web 2.0″, “RIA” actually had a definition, but it wasn’t written very tightly. Both came to be used as general marketing terms by others later.

    AIR has triggered a similar type of marketing dilution — puts pressure on others to have “a desktop story”, “an offline story” etc. But here it’s a little easier to directly see the differences… it’s once thing to copy Broadmoor into JavaScript, but another to try to clone the New York Times Reader.

    This is all part of why I hate having to listen when people start arguing about labels…. ;-)


  4. Chad May 19

    John, agreed wholeheartedly. Thanks for offering your opinion.

  5. Benji Smith May 19

    I always thought the RIA term referred to:

    1) a desktop-resident application…

    2) …using rich GUI controls rather than the platform-default widgets…

    3) …used for interacting with data from the internet, rather than with data on the local file system.

  6. Benji Smith May 19

    Or, to put it another way…

    RIA development combines the graphical sensibilities and net-centric data access of traditional web apps, and COMBINES them with the computing power of the desktop platform.

    In my mind, there are still very few RIA apps that take full advantage of the desktop benefits. The current wave of RIA apps — mostly RSS viewers and twitter clients — completely ignore the strengths of the desktop. They’d be almost identical if served in a browser.

    In my view, the really strong RIA apps are the ones — like SlideRocket, Hobnox Audiotool, and Buzzword — that embody that hybrid internet/desktop application experience.

  7. Paul Coffee May 26

    Isn’t using the term “IA” like using “IBM compatible”- sort of the standard? unless your a Mac lover, which I can totally understand……….

  8. Mexico Travel Guide Jun 18

    I don’t think that Ria is dead…It gives a pretty nice experience about the user enhancements..The information about CIA is really useful for the internet applications where i can get the details at any time which is really awesome…I am sure that it will get redundant in the future….

  9. furniture Jul 10

    I guess my reaction to all of this is somewhat different. I wonder if user experience is dead. I am raising the point somewhat provocatively and somewhat seriously. What strikes me in this game is dissemination of information in a *competitive* environment. As an information provider, do I invest in a given technology? Or am I better served investing in an API and letting promulgators of user experience compete for eyeballs? Amazon has done this with their Restful API as has Google with Google maps. Mind you, both have invested in UX, but theyve hedged their bets on that with the API. If were going to call a technology dead, then let me propose that we say so because the technology is no longer on the critical path to exploiting the underlying assets value proposition. If thats the case, let me propose that the entire field of UX is dead for many purveyors of archival information.

  10. Oak Wardrobe Jul 13

    RIAs definitely enhance the presence of a website over the internet.. Many companies have doubled their productivity by adding rich internet applications into their internet operations… By adding RIAs, website developers add a number of flexible features to a website and make it more vivid and alive… With RIAs, websites look more appealing, interactive and responsive…

  11. Painted Pine Furniture Jul 13

    I agree with you that desktop and RIA gets a bit confusing. Ultimately the browser is a desktop application loads content and application code from remote sources, I guess this is the key differentiator between a browser based web app and and destkop app like something in AIR. However using the same development tools and languages is very powerful IMO. But like Dion says eventually all web apps will be richer so the term RIA might go away. But it is very handy to have a label to apply to app that is interactive and responsive such Gmail for example vs old school simple form apps. First generation web apps that didnt use JavaScript and relied on only forms and links make my stomach turn when forced to use them. I dont care that much as an end user whether desktop app likely interactivity is added to web with Ajax, Flash, Silverlight as long as it works well and provides a good user experience! From a developers standpoint use the best tool for the job based on the developers experience, skills, budget, current environment etcĶ

  12. Oak Bedsides Jul 14

    Nice post… But I don’t accept that RIA is dead.. Nowadays designing internet playing the important role.. And most of the companies designing the websites.. RIA posses many feature like graphics effect and many more..

  13. Oak TV Unit Jul 15

    I think the roundly thrashed thing was a response to articles like this one at boxesandarrows, which was pointlessly confrontational and unrealistic. The death of the page is far more palatable and reasonable than the death of HTML.I guess my reaction to all of this is somewhat different. I wonder if user experience is dead.

  14. Pine Bookcases Jul 16

    RIAs allow your business to cross the gulf that exists between where your existing web business is, and where it wants to be… RIAs are usually richer in functionality as they offer user-interface behaviors using only the HTML widgets that can include any technology being used by the client side, including drag and drop, using a slider to change data, calculations performed only by the client and not need to be sent back to the server….

  15. Pine TV Unit Jul 17

    I agree with your article with full hearted person and the concept was also really amazing here I really thought that mix of designers and developers for the conference was cool and certainly out of the ordinary. Its not often you get something so heterogeneous at an event, so to talk to a truly mixed crowd was tons of fun! Many thanks to the conference organizers for putting together a great day as well as the great job.

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