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April 06, 17:41

Disrespecting the story teller as Ajax soars

As a world of programmers is still processing an incredible amount of gall and spite generated over the rise of Ajax as a term (and some as a technology), let me step back to salute Jesse James Garrett for coining the term.

I must admit that when I first heard it, I too twitched for a second in displeasure of a new cap for an old hat. But as my lizard brain retracted, I recognized the brilliance in timing and the benefits of explanation.

Jesse James told me, told us, a story about the rise of a new approach (or technique, if you're still pessimistic). He gave the web a reference point wrapped in a catchy term that has been fantastically beneficial at creating awareness.

That's valuable. That's an important contribution. Disrespecting the story teller for such an offering reflects a narrow, harmful view of progress on a grander scale. In the aim to lift the industry higher, the stories are as important as the technology. The stories carry good ideas from the mighty high to the mighty far.

The resentment around the term Ajax reminds me of the recurrent rejection I've observed in some programmers around design patterns (less so in recent years, though). An instant rejection that a story can be valuable on its own. That if you know the tech before it received a catchy label, you're entitled to the smug sense of superiority as you berate the illiterate commons of how you were there before it was cool.

I can't stand it. Great ideas are ripe for better packaging. Let's honor the bards of our time as they carry, improve, and spread messages of improvement farther and further. The irrational rejection of stories is the hallmark of a world view that treasures enlightment only among the few.

Challenge by Adam Michela on April 06, 18:28

Exactly what I've been saying. I could not agree more on all points. Good stuff.

Challenge by Dave J. Lowe on April 06, 18:43

Well said.

After working for a university for nearly five years, I've learned the lesson (the hard way) that it doesn't matter how many awesome ideas or ground-breaking techniques you invent or adapt. If no one gets it, you might as well be a monkey with a typewriter.

We need more people like Jesse James who help others *get it*. After all these years, how many people (in business,etc) really *get* the web itself? From where I'm sitting, not many.

Challenge by Beau Hartshorne on April 06, 19:57

Can anyone tell me who invented ethernet? The mouse? Laser printers? GUI? What about MP3 players? Ajax? The list goes on.

Challenge by Ryan Platte on April 06, 20:35

XMLHttpRequest needed a brand. I'm glad the underlying technology had a name that simply couldn't catch on, so that someone could step up and give a name to the whole paradigm shift.

Challenge by Mike P. on April 06, 20:38

Well said, I too can't agree with you more. At least some folks handled it with class.

Challenge by Jason on April 06, 20:58

I don't know... I was rooting for Mr. Clean -- Clientside Loading of Entities Across Networks -- all along.

Challenge by ToddG on April 06, 21:10

Yes, Bob Metcalfe at Xerox PARC invented Ethernet ;-)

I agree with the post as well. Most technical people are also the least qualified to be whining about poor marketing choices. Witness the zillions of great ideas and technologies that wither and die all the time due to lack of awareness and/or "marketing".

I think this is an area James and Adaptive Path do well, relating *why* technical and IA and UX concepts are important to business people and the public. Many technical people seem to miss the fact that most of the world does not see things the way they do.

Challenge by Bill Katz on April 07, 3:29

Can anyone tell me who invented ethernet? The mouse? Laser printers? GUI? What about MP3 players? Ajax? The list goes on.

Weren't they all invented at Xerox PARC? I'm sure if we dig deep enough, the MP3 player and Ajax had its origins there too :)

Hurray for story telling and branding of technology memes. If people have a problem with AJAX as acronym, we could always use "AJAX-like."

Challenge by Vui Lo on April 08, 2:48

Story and documentation shall go hand in hand, and together be an integral part of software. I see those in Rail.

Challenge by on April 08, 10:26

What a Better Story enables one to throw out of a definition is perhaps an even stronger case for telling better stories. I'm talking "outmoded metaphors", or "concepts that no longer apply" etc. Viva Ajax (short name, too).

Challenge by Olle Jonsson on April 08, 10:26

What a Better Story enables one to throw out of a definition is perhaps an even stronger case for telling better stories. I'm talking "outmoded metaphors", or "concepts that no longer apply" etc. Viva Ajax (short name, too).

Challenge by Olle Jonsson on April 08, 10:27

Profuse apologies to everyone. Double post! Phe. Sorry.

Challenge by Allan Odgaard on April 08, 18:13

The original Ajax article is fine, he doesn't take credit for anything, he observes a tendency and “suggests” a name (as is often done before).

The thing triggering the primitive reactions is probably individual A starting to use the term in conversation with individual B who is not yet familiar with the term, but certainly with the technology.

When B learns that A was using a new term for something simple, he may think, wow, that's a cool/appropriate term, I'll use that next time I talk to C, or he may think that A is just a smart-ass and associate that with the term. The latter often trigger the anti-reaction claiming “did that years ago”, this either in frustration about seeing the science turning into a pseudo-science where wrapping and terminology is what counts, or to reclaim some pride lost when B didn't know what A spoke about.

With regard to DP I think the situation is a little different because for some of us we feel that they (GoF) sell us solutions which are not at all solutions. Again, the original publication is fine, but when in discussions with others, one is told that, “oh, that's simple, just use the memento pattern” or similar, one can't help but think that DP is just a tool for people to sound smarter than they actually are.

Challenge by Bernhard Seefeld on April 09, 10:36

Well, as someone who also publicly disliked the usage of this name (although never bashing the story teller for that, just questioning the wisdom of cluttering the name space):

I didn't consider this perspective and I think it makes a lot of sense. On the other hand Allan Odgaard totally captures my experience.

I'd like to add that in a conversation where A proudly babbles about the newest trend of Ajax and B suggests that he was already doing exactly that for a some time, A's immediate reaction is often to classify B as a braggart or even as someone dismissing innovation - which would be exactly wrong. Most people that do use the name casually, i.e. the ones targetted by the story telling, don't see "Ajax" as a term describing a trend but rather as a newly invented technology.

So maybe these people react so negatively, because the effect is not fear of losing credit (which - as you point out - shouldn't be the case anyway) but the actual effect of temporarily reversing the credit in the other direction!

I guess that the early users of Ajax (feelds awkward to use the term myself..) are exactly the ones to profit most from the publicity over the long term. But for them the usage of the term Ajax as a trend, rather than as a technology, would be most helpful.

Challenge by James Britt on April 12, 2:00

My own dislike is not so much for the term itself, but that depsite Jesse James Garrett's clear definition of AJAX involving "data interchange and manipulation using XML and XSLT"
most so-called AJAX apps are simply pushing around plain text or HTML, with no XML/XSLT in sight.

The result is that I rarely have a clear idea what people mean when they refer to AJAX, other than Another Javascript Application eXalted.

Ironic that Garrett makes mention of AJAX using "standards-based presentation using XHTML and CSS" when the XmlHttpRequest object is anything but standard.

Challenge by brian on April 12, 5:03

The name is bad because it represents a pure marketing attempt (which succeeded marvolously due to the legions of parrot bloggers hyping the hype) to link a firm with, if not the coining of the technology, at least coining a term for the technology. The author's name resembles a marketing ploy in itself-- Jesse "James" Garrett indeed. Clearly someone not beneath stealing other people's thunder.*

The name is bad because it doesn't even describe the technology correctly, as others have pointed out. There already exists a categorization of clients available. Witness: Thick/Rich clients vs Thin clients. The Big Deal is not AJAX nor specifically any one of the terms that AJAX stands for. The Big Deal is the Rich (client) Javascript paradigmn that has taken hold in the wake of Oddpost and its offspring, Gmail.

I would assume that someone so firmly entrenched in the "I wouldn't hire someone who used a mouse with more than one button" camp would embrace the simple, all encompassing term, rather than a self interested marketing ploy.

Remember, its Rich Javascript, not AJAX.

* Whether his parents are to blame is irrelevant. He wouldn't have included a middle name if it was something that would reduce the marketing angle, such as "Wilber".

Challenge by spiral on April 18, 4:00

brian: you and others like you who stoop to name calling and uninformed bellyaching are missing the point entirely, not to mention unfairly maligning someone whom you don't know a thing about. Jesse is one of the more soft-spoken, well-spoken, intelligent, good-humored people I know and it saddens me that you and others like you hide behind your online aliases in order to make yourselves feel better about your place in the world through name calling and finger pointing.

Giving the methods and techniques that encompass the technologies that the term "Ajax" attempts to describe was never intended as a marketing ploy by Adaptive Path. The article simply was an attempt to introduce designers and laypeople who don't know anything about these techniques to a "new" way of looking at the web in light of recent tools like Google Maps and Gmail. Interaction designers haven't had a lot of experience working with developers on projects such as this, and if anything the term "Ajax" celebrates these developers by attempting to educate designers about these tools and techniques so that each can share a common vocabulary.

"Ajax" doesn't belong to Jesse or Adaptive Path any more than the technology itself is owned by developers. But the name Ajax *does* give the developer community a lot more credibility, and a lot more to talk about in the eyes of business owners and laypeople who never could or would understand the technologies and techniques that Ajax describes.