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” ‚Äì 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 AA.com 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” ‚Äì 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.
Posted on May 19, 2009