Google Maps and the Rise and Fall of AJAX?

Posted on June 12, 2009

Evolution of AJAX

Google Maps has been a catalyst in the evolution of web architecture. This evolution began silently in 1999 when Microsoft released the first AJAX-based application, Exchange Web Client. Unfortunately, awareness of its AJAX roots never extended beyond Microsoft.

AJAX laid dormant for the next six years, until Google Maps popped out of nowhere in 2005. Since then, Google Maps has served as the poster child for AJAX, mapping and Rich Internet Applications (RIA), where:

  • user interaction extends far beyond simple input forms and submit buttons
  • the application that manages and animates the webpage is as accessible as the webpage itself

An RIA has become a popular and sensible way to interact with a billion web viewers, say to build an online service, observe how viewers interact with your brand, or simply put to engage them in a personal conversation.

RIAs built on AJAX technology have evolved so rapidly that, for the current crop of popular browsers, they have exhausted the capacity of JavaScript and HTML DOM, the technologies on which AJAX was built. The evolution of RIA is now predicated on finding a suitable replacement.

The Next AJAX

AJAX is the first step on the journey from hypertext to RIA to two-way broadcasting.

AJAX is a design pattern built from JavaScript and HTML DOM, two technologies that are free and open.

AJAX is successful not just because there is a need, but also because there is an audience, encouraged by a vocal digerati, willing to do the work. It was not Exchange Web Client but Google Maps — six years later — that inspired an audience to take up the cause.

I wrote about Flash 9 as a potential contender to replace AJAX as the next RIA platform.

But where is its catalyst? What killer app will inspire an audience to take up the cause and make Flash the de-facto platform for RIA?

A while back, Google announced Google Maps for Flash.

Could Google Maps for Flash (hopefully followed by a flood of rich internet mashups) do for Flash as it did for AJAX?

Adobe has successfully made Flash ubiquitous, but they also need to gain the respect and support of the digerati. The digerati control the blogosphere and live on the internet and the web, both which have a long history of openness and collaboration; digerati are understandably suspicious of closed or proprietary technology.

Adobe’s recent decision to steer Flash from its proprietary past now needs to be implemented fully before the digerati will consider accepting it as wholeheartedly as they have accepted AJAX.

The Next Google Maps

I’m cautiously optimistic that Google Maps for Flash will be the catalyst that drives the growth of Flash-based RIA.

If so, the Rich Internet Maps of today will achieve a level of interactivity more likePhotoshop Express.

The Google Flash Maps platform is strong and able to extend the use of maps far beyond simple locator services. Can it help businesses to identify prime locations to place franchises? Sure. How about health organizations that need to monitor and predict changes in public health, real-time pandemic management, etc? Yes, it can. Real-time emergency / crisis management? You bet!

We have built extensions on this platform to support these and other business intelligence (BI) related use cases, and we invite you to contact us to learn more about the creative ways we can use Google Maps to help you.

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