Web sites as applications

There’s been a lot of talk lately about “improving” the UI of the Web. Mostly by trying to add standards for “rich” clients.

Gruber has come back with an equally thoughtfull, and in my opinion, correct analysis of the Web’s strengths.

Essentially, the Web is a disruptive technology (OK, that’s a no duh… give me a sec).

Alot of folks smarter than me are coming to the conclusion that the Web is a disruptive technology for traditional, rich apps.

I’ve actually been mulling the strengths of Web-vs.-rich apps for a while as I’ve been taking on more development projects at work.

If you look at Gruber’s piece and Ian Bicking’s follow-up you can come away with a list of strengths of the Web:

* Easy to deploy — Upload your new modules, (or fine, your php files, your jars, etc.) and your clients — each and every one of them — has the new app.

Even with their “you’ll download our updates and you’ll like it” approach to Windows Update, even Microsoft can’t offer that kind of speed or breadth of deployment.

* Consistent UI — Unless you go and do some major Javascripting or Flashing your site probably looks like a Web site. It has links, form widgets, text and photos.

Users can sit down at any Web site and they’ll be in a better position to figure out your apps functionality. They’ll grok the how they only need to know the what.

* Easily portable — Assuming you abide by the standards you get instant portability and compatability to any device that renders (X)HTML, practically for free.

In fact, its often in a vain attempt to achieve some semblance of “richness” that developers in/advertendly lock themselves into one platform.

What does all this mean for news media publishing to the Web (and who isn’t). Here’s a quick list of recommendations:

1. Don’t pursue ‘richness’ at all costs — If your locking out users of different platforms (and platforms now include cellphones, PDAs, and search engines — among others) in an attempt to achieve “richness”, stop.

Plenty of users, on plenty of other Web sites have shown that they’re perfectly capable of handling a “non-rich” client.

I know that those cool Javascript/Java/Flash demos are impressive when you’re sitting in a conference room looking at a site. But try using the site instead…

2. Don’t lock your(self and) users out — Newspapers are particularly bad about pursuing the largest audience to the detriment of others.

Why not, its in our blood. We produce one product (don’t give me that zone smack, that’s not true customization) for one monolithic audience.

That don’t cut it on the Web. The Web is made up of a myriad of users, with a myriad of user-agents, fonts, font-sizes, and screen resolutions — not to mention operating systems.

It’s too easy for newspapers to say “Well IE is our major audience.” It sounds an awful lot like “40- to 60-year-olds are our major audience,” — and we all know how well that mindset has served print readership….

When you lock out users, you’re locking yourself out of the future. Browsers, and operating systems change — but your users will, hopefully, still like to visit your site.

3. Embrace the Webness — Ok, I made that word up. Here’s a short, and glib, strategy for doing that:

Be more like a Web log, and use clicks. 🙂

About Chris

Python developer, Agile practitioner trying desperately not to be a pointy haired boss.
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