@media Ajax, day 1

Day one of has just wrapped up in a very wet and rainy London.

The show opened with a State of Ajax address by the guys from Ajaxian in which they gave their perspective on where Ajax and the Web is headed. I have to say, their perspective seemed somewhat alien to my experience of Ajax in the here and now, but I think they’re talking about fundamentally different use cases—situations where the browser eclipses even the operating system and JavaScript drives everything from the interface to the core processes. Hey, you can even use JavaScript to create CSS layouts! Yes, they really said that and no, I don’t know what they’re smoking but I want some.

I think their otherworldy perspective makes sense if you’re, say, Google and you’re trying to figure out how you can hack around that awkward beast that is the Web (by doing everything in Java, apparently) but I couldn’t help but feel that in their enthusiasm to port the desktop to the Web, the Ajaxians are missing the core attributes that make the Web so appealing—things like hypertext and markup, to which technologies like JavaScript and Ajax should be subservient.

In complete contrast, Mike followed with the story of how, instead of trying to make everything work in a single technology he already knew, he explored a whole range of technologies and methodologies opened up by Ajax. In effect, Ajax drove him to become something of a renaissance man.

Derek then proceeded to give a storming presentation on JavaScript and accessibility, wonderfully illustrated by some snapshots of real-world instances of bad design that he has come across just in the few days he’s been in the country (which reminded me that most of the examples of bad design in Donald A. Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things were gathered from the time he spent in the UK).

Stuart followed with a presentation about breaking the web. His tongue was firmly in cheek… and possibly also in horses, judging by his continuous reference to horse pornography. It was a good lighthearted way to make some serious points.

I found Christian’s presentation to be a great breath of fresh air. He opened by declaring, It doesn’t matter what JavaScript library you use, or whether you use a library at all, or what coding style you use, as long as your team all agree on it. He went in to a lot more detail on how to manage code and the developers working on that code but he had me at “It doesn’t matter.”

PPK wrapped the day up with a case study that compared data formats (XML, JSON, HTML, etc.). It was also an illuminating study of the Plantagenet and Tudor royal houses—it turns out he’s something of genealogy geek.

Overall, a great day of talks, in my opinion. It’ll be interesting to see how tomorrow goes. While the first day is pitched at covering the building blocks, day two is going to cover the bigger picture. In preparation for the closing panel, I’ve been trying to gauge the backgrounds of most of the audience members; are they front-end developers, server-side developers, designers, what?

I’ve had some great pub conversations with the conference attendees. In the course of these chats, some people mentioned to me that they thought the first day was covering stuff they already knew and they said they were looking forward to the meaty stuff in day two. Personally, I’ll consider myself lucky if I can even follow all the high-level programming stuff that’s bound to come up in the talks on Dojo and JavaScript 2.

Posted by Jeremy on Tuesday, November 20th, 2007 at 3:32am


Regarding your comments on Ajaxian, I was similarly all excited about ExtJS early on, until I realized it was mostly non-declarative.

It’s an excellent and amazing piece of work…except one crucial point, it’s no longer a document.

That works sometimes, and for some project, but most of the time, its just bad form for something that is intrinsically declarative.

The challenge with Ajax is keeping it document-centric, resource-centric, and declarative. But realistically, it just takes a little more thought, a little less jumping to the nearest programming language. Most of all, staying declarative requires a consistent effort to think about "what am I really trying to do", and a commitment to discover the "truisms" in the given purpose. It’s an abstract point, and one that’s hard to illustrate in a few paragraphs. But when you’re developing a library or framework, dealing with the abstract and meta is what you (are supposed to) do.

And now that all sounded ivory tower. But I swear, software architecture, library and framework developer really is an existentialistic exercise ;-)

# Posted by Marcus on Wednesday, November 21st, 2007 at 3:06am

Hmph. "Continuous". See if I ever go to the effort of building up a one-slide gag again, Keith. :)

# Posted by sil on Wednesday, November 21st, 2007 at 8:07am

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November 2007

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