A new way of thinking about rich web applications — Lightweight Plugins

I’m not sure exactly where I got this idea, but I know it’s not my own, so I cede the creativity of the idea to someone else. Actually, I think it was Bill Scott with Sabre / OpenRico on his blog, but again, I’m not sure.

Anyway, to the idea. If you stop thinking of javascript as a way to enhance a webpage and start thinking of it as more of an actual language you can use to build a small application inside of a webpage, it sorta “changes everything.” With the popularity of ajax and the rise of advanced widget systems (like script.aculo.us/) and rich web application frameworks, it’s becoming more and more apparent that you *can* build very functional applications on the web. And, for that matter, you can do it all inside a single webpage.

So, you can build a mini application, so what? Well, how about building a “Lightweight Plugin.” Here’s the flow of things:

  1. Browser downloads page with little markup, but much javascript
  2. Javascript loads a data file from server
  3. Javascript parses data file and displays to user
  4. User can interact with the javascript display to edit data or view new data

See, it’s just like having an acrobat reader or flash, but you’ve got ZERO downloads, and you can have it do whatever you want, completely customized to your way of doing things.

But wait, the thing about plugins is that there are only a few of them that people have, so everyone has to stick to using the big ones — acrobat reader & flash. We don’t have to stick to that anymore, since there’s no installation of software to worry about. I keep coming back to “The browser is the platform” — Once you’ve got the idea of the lightweight plugin, it becomes apparent that anyone can just build whatever lightweight plugin they want, and the browser just becomes the platform for running and distributing the application.

The browser is the platform.
The browser is the platform.
The browser is the platform.

We’re not getting rid of regular apps anytime soon, but we’re going to start seeing the web become a very different place, full of big and small applications.

TopJax 0.2

I’ve released a new version of my little Ajax system utility, TopJax The new release displays a bit more information to the user than the last.

If you don’t know, TopJax is basically the unix Top command ported to the web with Ajax techniques. It’s basically a, “hey let me do something that gets my feet wet w/ Ajax while also doing something potentially useful”

Mappr Beta!

I found this neat little wapp on the del.icio.us makemagazine rss feed, it’s called Mappr, and it superimposes pictures tagged with a keyword of choice on top of a map of the united states.

It uses other tags to place the images.

For example, i’ve tagged some of my images on flickr, which happen to be tagged with pug, ALSO with the keyword of neworleans. Mappr can then associate ‘neworleans’ with a location on the map. In essence, it’s inferring location from tags, which is neat.

To see it in action, check out this link

Original Ajax

I thought this was interesting over on Scobleizer: Apparently Jean Paoli’s team at Microsoft created XMLHttp in 1998 in order to give the Outlook team a way to do Outlook Web Access.

I mean, that’s not all that interesting. It’d be more neat if what we were using it for now was totally not what was expected, but I guess the tool is being used for what it was invented.

Full article about that, the Microsoft Atlas project, which I’m guessing is Visual Web Developer 2005 + ASP.NET 2.0, you can go to ScottGu’s Blog. There, he talks about the upcoming Atlas Client Script Framework, which will provide ajax support to ASP.NET

Next, we need to have System.Windows.Forms implemented in XHTML+CSS+AJAX. Wouldn’t that be something?

The even longer tail and the Adwords API

At first, the Google Adwords API doesn’t really seem like much, just a way to write simple programs to do some automating of tasks that are already pretty easy. I’ve bought ads on Google before, and it’s really fairly straightforward.

However, it’s really a MUCH bigger deal, in my opinion.

If you look back at posts like this one, you’ll see a nice discussion of how google is taking advantage of the whole long tail phenomenon by letting the massive amount of small guys with targeted keywords advertise to their respective markets. This is well and good, but there is something bigger that’s going on here. My speculation is that there is a much greater long tail than anyone has imagined, and that it can be served in a way that it can’t now — through creative use of the Adwords API.

The idea goes like this: There are lots of businesses out there that have a whole slew of products, services, and media to get to their respective consumers, but their focus is not targeted enough to make manually selecting keywords a viable option.

Take, for instance, a small business that sells a variety of, well, let’s just say ‘themed greeting cards.’ They’ve got their products available, but they have so many cards of various types that they don’t really have a good way of getting all their data into the adwords system.

Now, they can.

Anyone with a product catalog can do it. I’ll bet that in a year, good comercial ecommerce solutions will incorporate product catalog -> adwords (and the other guys) systems.

It’s going to get that easy to mass-micro advertise, and small businesses will benefit. So will Google.

Yes, there will be competition. I think Yahoo’s entry into this space will take a big dent out of Google, or at least it will put a little bit of pressure on bidding for keywords. Overall, however, growth in the market for keywords will outweigh any competition that comes online, at least for the forseeable future.