Evolution of AJAX

In his blog, A Brief History of AJAX, Aaron Swartz talks about the evolution of AJAX. Various vendors contributed to this effort. The tipping point came when Google used it for Google Maps and Gmail and when Jesse James Garrett coined the term AJAX.AJAX completely changed the browsing experience. Now vendors like Sun and TIBCO are jumping in with tools to build AJAX style applications. I just did a search on Google on AJAX applications, and got about 1.87 million hits. Also stumbled upon a link to the Top-10 AJAX applications posted in Sep, 2005.

The Brain of a Blogger

1. Blogs can promote critical and analytical thinking.
2. Blogging can be a powerful promoter of creative, intuitive, and associational thinking.
3. Blogs promote analogical thinking.
4. Blogging is a powerful medium for increasing access and exposure to quality information.
5. Blogging combines the best of solitary reflection and social interaction.

Here is the originail post. An interesting idea to motivate
more students to blog.

Building the next generation websites with XML

There are several benefits of using XML for content managment instead of HTML. Here is some evidence that this is catching on.

“Although XML commonly supports effective data exchange, using it to manage Web content is less understood, researchers said. But XML, which describes the content and is more flexible than HTML, can dramatically improve workflow and reduce time, effort and costs related to Web site management, they added.”

The first time I heard this idea was in 1999 in a book Building Websites with XML written by Michael Flloyd. It was a great idea but the state of the tools and the performance of XML was nowhere near the desirable level.

Today the story is very different. The tools and technologies are more mature. Techniques like AJAX on the client side and syndication formats like RSS, NewsML, Atom make it really easy to build websites with dynamic content.

Collaborative Tagging for Knowledge Sharing

“There has recently there been a great surge of interest in collaborative tagging as a means of facilitating knowledge sharing in social computing. Collaborative tagging refers to the process in which a community of users adds meta-information in the form of keywords or tags to Web content such as web pages, links, photographs and audio files on a centralized web server.

While collaborative tagging is only starting to be researched in the research community, it seems to address a real need on the Web as demonstrated by the growing popularity of tagging and annotation sites (see del.icio.us, flickr, technorati, RawSugar, Shadows, etc.); the most popular sites already have a combined user base of several millions.” – from the description of Collaborative Web Tagging Workshop

Google Base – A great XML application

Google Base is a great example of an XML application. It uses RSS to create new types of content. Google Base comes with a set of pre-defined item types. You can create your own.

Let us look at an example. I buy a lot of used books from Amazon. However, sometimes I pay more money for shipping, than the cost of the book itself. I do this because the combined cost of the used book and shipping is still lower than the price of a new book from a nearby shop.

Now look at the future with Google Base. Let us say we create a type called Used Books in Google Base. Every one lists their books using this type. All the books go into a giant database. Now I can go to Google and look for the books I want. Using location information, Google can show me the nearest used bookstore where my book is available. No intermediaries, no shipping costs. I can give business to my local book stores, I can find something I want fairly fast and pay even less than what I pay today.

Google Base enables a new brand of applications. These are made possible by a unique combination of a search engine, a mapping tool, an online database and some cool XML technology.

Swicki – A Powerful Engine of Findability

“As the pendulum swings from push to pull, the effectiveness of advertising diminishes relative to the importance of product design and quality and price. No longer forced to trust the promotional spin of television advertisements and predatory salespeople, we now have the ability to find the best products and the best deals. We can make informed decisions, thanks to the simple keyword and our sophisticated engines of findability.” from Peter Morville in his book “Ambient Findability”

One of the most powerful engines of Findability I came across this morning is Swicki. It is a contextual search engine. It uses Yahoo’s search API and augments it with keywords of your interest. You have to try it to believe it. A blog entry at TechCrunch (where I found this first)describes Swicki.

“A swicki is new kind of search engine that allows anyone to create deep, focused searches on topics you care about. Unlike other search engines, you and your community have total control over the results and it uses the wisdom of crowds to improve search results. This search engine, or swicki, can be published on your site. Your swicki presents search results that you’re interested in, pulls in new relevant information as it is indexed, and organizes everything for you in a neat little customizable widget you can put on your web site or blog, complete with its very own buzz cloud that constantly updates to show you what are hot search terms in your community.”

Try out the beta at http://swicki.eurekster.com/. You will experience a very different search experience.


Microformats are a way of adding more meaning to your web content. For example, you can use a hCard format to display business card information or hCalendar for event information. What is the benefit? By adding some meaning (semantics) to the various web elements on your page, you will increase the quality of searches (as search engines start understanding these formats).

There is a Microformat Primer on Digital Web Magazine. A list of Microformats are available in the Microformat Wiki.

Some potential ideas to leverage Microformats:

– Create RSS streams from Microformats (for event information)
Create gadgets for Microformats (gadgets are web components for Microsoft Live.com)
– Create widgets for Microformats (widgets are web components for Yahoo Konfabulator)

XML and Semi-structured Information Management

Among several pieces of email that arrived in my inbox yesterday, the one from Peter P Jones caught my attention. He posted several links to articles on managing unstructured information. One of them was about a project called Virtual XML Garden. With Virtual XML garden, you can write scripts in XPath or XQuery and access non-XML data as if it were XML. This is done by “writing thin, on-demand adapters for each format into a generic abstract XML interface corresponding to the XML Infoset as well as the forthcoming XPath and XQuery Data Model”. This will allow a wide variety of XML tools to access the data without converting it to XML. The Virtual XML Garden project talks about several prototype adopters.

AJAX clients are already gaining popularity as the preferred user interface to interactive web applications. Combining AJAX with Virtual XML may bring about some very interesting applications. Imagine having a Google Map style interactivity on your relational data!

Adam on “Learning from THE Web”

There is a great article from Adam Bosworth in ACM Queue online magazine titled Learning from THE WEB. He makes many great points. I agree with most of them.

The wisdom of the crowds works amazingly well. He mentions examples of how Flickr and del.icio.us allow people to tag resources freely. We once tried to pre-define a set of tags in a collaborative portal. That feature was rarely used. It is a top down approach and did not work well. The bottom up approach of free tagging works well. Blog search engines like Technorati can use tags to locate blogs.

He then goes on to say why Semantic Web may not work well but does little to explain why. I am not sure I agree with his assessment. RDF, a language for describing resources can enrich search engines like Google and Yahoo. Have you ever tried Google alerts or searches with terms like ESB and RDF? Google can certainly do better with some contextual information or help from RDF.

I think RDF is where XML was about 5 years ago. Since XML is just a syntax for describing data, we need something to describe the relationships in a flexible manner. That is what RDF does. However, it does not follow the KISS rule. The RDF is serialized in XML format and that makes RDF statements hard to read. Some of the alternate serialization formats like N3 make it a bit simpler. If you really want to spend a few minutes to understand RDF try Joshua Tauber’s Quick Intro.

The article covers several topics including growing complexity of XML. He urges database vendors to learn from the lessons of the web and step up to the plate.

Overall, it is a great article and definitely worth reading and thinking about.