Litmus: RIA


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The Tipping Point for RIAs
Rich Internet Applications: Information at the Speed of Life

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Litmus: RIA

  1. 1. LITMUS The Tipping Point for RIAs Rich Internet Applications: Information at the Speed of Life Even if you’ve missed the hype surrounding these web technologies, you’re experiencing the effects of a tipping point for RIAs, or rich internet applications, every day. On major portals, e-commerce sites, social networking sites and web- based email and instant messaging services, lag time has all but disappeared and user interfaces are far more dynamic, graphical and participatory than they were even a year ago. Seemingly Subtle Changes Have Big Effect Learning your city’s temperature, movie times or Mexican restaurants just requires a zip code and, after zero delay—voila! House hunting on sites such as HomePages and Zillow feels like a legitimate form of FBI surveillance, as you float above aerial imagery while relevant home values and neighborhood demographics (and crime stats) attach themselves to what’s in view. You can build your dream car and instantly Zillow’s content assigns accurate market value for any home and for anyone. Type in an address and quickly see street and satel- lite views, home stats and market comparisons— all for free. ©2009 Resource Interactive. All rights reserved.
  2. 2. price it down to the rims on several automotive sites, or read a film’s plot summary and order it all at the same time on Netflix. When going through checkout on your favorite apparel site, you don’t have to abandon your whole consideration set and brave the one-way shopping cart cul de sac. What’s going on? Behind the scenes, bit by bit, developers are augmenting and replacing the web’s HTML backbone with more “rich internet applications,” a rather generic phrase Macromedia coined in 2002 to describe what developers and designers were doing with their vector-graphic technology called Flash— essentially, overcoming its design and interaction constraints. Rich media, rich clients, rich user interface: all are names used, often inconsistently, to describe roughly the same concept—web applications that allow a more desktop application-like experience. Slightly less confusing are the assortments of technologies that can be employed to develop these applications— DHTML, ActiveX Controls, Flash, Flex, OpenLaszlo— to name just a few. DHTML (the D stands for dynamic) was perhaps the first, partial step forward in making the web a pliable, engaging, multimedia tool for myriad uses—and experiences. Today, AJAX seems to be the poster child for rich internet applications. AJAX is actually a combination of technologies including DHTML and Javascript that have quite literally been around for years, but it nevertheless has everyone talking about the new potential of the web to be more like, well, life. Enterprises are expected to spend in excess of $500 million on RIAs by 2011, according to a recent study by research firm Zap Think. To understand what’s driving this spending, and the potential impact of RIA technology on both users and enterprises, one must understand the road we’ve traveled. HTML was originally designed just to present research documents coming from somewhere else (a remote server) and to link them together via code called hypertext. This was World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee’s idea and this was marvelous stuff when the web wasn’t commercialized. That web was one you could essentially page through, so to speak, to read and store information, but you couldn’t do much beyond that. In the course of about a decade we have witnessed the advent and advances of e-commerce, real-time news and product customization, to name a few milestones—essentially web applications that require a more sophisticated interface, similar to what computer users experience with desktop applications such as MS Office and Mac OS X. HTML’s page-based linearity and page-load waiting time now seem to belong to another era. The Benefits of RIAs Essentially, RIA technology can enable improved and streamlined user experiences. For e-commerce organizations trying to reduce any and all barriers in the shopping cart and checkout process, streamlining and simplifying are critical advantages. Sites more focused on brand building can leverage RIA technologies to increase user interaction (time spent on the site interacting with the brand) and facilitate data ©2009 Resource Interactive. All rights reserved.
  3. 3. capture. Here are some specific situations where RIA technology can be employed to improve the user experience: Information that requires frequent sorting (and resorting) and filtering is a prime candidate for an RIA-based interface. The technology allows users’ choices to be sorted and/or filtered on the fly without a page refresh or even a trip back to the web server. Generally, this is accomplished by caching some or all of the data on the user-side and only making calls back to the web server when more or different information is needed. When a call back to the web server is required, it is done behind the scenes and does not require a page refresh. This technique not only improves the user experience, it greatly reduces the amount of data transferred back and forth between client and server (something both your customers and your system administrators will love). Witness real-time filtering and streaming information without a page refresh on user-ranked news web site It’s a giant mirror held up to the masses as they submit stories or a “digg” or comment on a story. The process of gathering information (addresses, payment information, survey responses, etc.) from the user can also be improved using RIA technologies. With HTML, data capture is accomplished in one of two ways: ©2009 Resource Interactive. All rights reserved.
  4. 4. 1. by using a very long scrolling—and sometimes overwhelming—form that tries to capture all of the information in one step, or 2. by spreading the form across multiple pages that require the user to progress through several page refreshes to accomplish a single task. Neither option presents an efficient or ideal user experience and often can lead to abandonment of the whole process. With RIA technologies, developers have additional options to improve upon this situation. Input areas can expand and contract on a single page as needed. For example, the developer can design the web page to expand one section of input—say, billing address information—and then contract it to a smaller size once data entry is complete. In this fashion, the page’s real estate is maximized to allow the user to enter information sans page refreshes and scrolling. Everyone, it seems, talked about’s QuickLook consumer preference-based pop-ups and the ‘My Bag’ drop- down windows when the AJAX-revamped retailer site launched last year. Checking out was never so much fun. Related to gathering information, RIA technologies enable a business to take advantage of a broader set of input types, far beyond the basic HTML input types like text boxes, drop downs and radio buttons. This becomes very important when businesses have more specialized data input needs. For example, it might be advantageous (and intuitive for the user) to be able to drag-and-drop items from one section on the page to a specialized input field or select a date ©2009 Resource Interactive. All rights reserved.
  5. 5. from a calendar view instead of typing out the date itself. These input types are consistent and expected in desktop applications (Excel, Outlook, Quicken, etc.) and now can be enabled on the web via RIA technologies. Similarly, developers are also able to create the web application to handle more of the data validation on the client-side—checking data without going back to the web server—and providing instant feedback about data entry errors to users as they input information. This is especially helpful when businesses are either capturing large amounts of information or there are interdependencies between the information being entered. On, a Resource Interactive- designed 100% Flash- based microsite inspired by the velocity and enthusi- asm of the running lifestyle, the “Customize Your Run” section uses sliders as inputs to accommodate user-provided preferences. Employing RIA technologies can shorten or simplify multi-step processes. Some of the best examples of this can be seen in various product configurators. Products with many options (colors, sizes, styles, finishes, etc.) can be configured without page refreshes or without stepping through multiple pages normally required by HTML-only sites. This is accomplished with RIA technology by not only caching the options required by the configurator but also caching the inter- dependencies between the options. For example, some styles of your product might have colors that are unavailable in other styles, so the colors can be suppressed or displayed based on this logic without requiring a trip back to the web server to look up this information. ©2009 Resource Interactive. All rights reserved.
  6. 6. Shopping for a new VW GTI is almost as fun as driving one, with a configurator that locks and loads a consumer’s choice of parts and accessories, then takes the resulting car for a joyride with a blonde bombshell. When Not To Employ RIA Technologies While there are many advantages to employing RIA technologies, there are situations when this is not appropriate for your organization or project. Organizational constraints, the purpose of your web site and the needs of your particular audience/customer should influence your decision about whether to develop your web site using RIA technologies and techniques, and, if so, just how expansive their usage should be. Some of the considerations to take into account: HTML is still the best choice when presenting non-interactive text. There is little or no advantage in leveraging RIA technologies to do what HTML does best. Static pages, including press releases, reports and news articles, can be best served by sticking with HTML. SEO and Analytics. HTML-based web pages remain the best option for search engine optimization and analytics; consider what more fluid applications (i.e., no page refreshes) enabled by RIA technologies have done to our practice of measuring ad impressions by attempting to count page views! When we do away with page-flipping—as we weave together video, audio, images and text—and offer single-screen tools for doing everything from selecting a product to configuring ©2009 Resource Interactive. All rights reserved.
  7. 7. one, it is notoriously difficult for search engines (Google, Yahoo!, etc.) to effectively traverse and index your site. The likelihood of getting a high ranking in their search results is greatly reduced. Fortunately on the analytics front, vendors such as Omniture and Coremetrics provide tracking tools to help measure macro-level RIA actions as page views. So we can embrace RIAs as site design and architecture that are as accountable as their more static alternatives. Even better, the major search engines as well as the RIA technologies themselves are beginning to enable searching of RIA-enabled web content. No more page refreshes. So far we have portrayed page refreshes, the necessary side-effect of all HTML web sites, as having a negative impact on the user experience. However, breaking the “page-refresh” paradigm using RIA technologies can interrupt the step-by-step flow to which most internet users have become accustomed. Most users perceive the page refresh and subsequent pause in their experience as indicative of something happening—e.g., the order was placed, the search is completed, or the information is re-sorted. Poorly designed RIA applications that don’t provide obvious user feedback for these activities tend to confuse and frustrate users. Similarly, since mouse clicks within an RIA-based user interface don’t automatically register as web page navigation within the browser (as HTML page clicks do), the forward and back buttons users rely on when they need to regroup, step back, or advance in the simplest fashion don’t always work. Costs. RIA technologies enable website designers and developers to do more than they ever could with HTML to improve the customer experience. However, “more” often means increased development time and expense because as the scope of requested functionality increases, so must the capabilities of the underlying technology. This is a major issue for organizations that have developed predictable cost models based on the simplicity of executing with HTML and don’t understand the complexity of the options made available by RIA technology. Organizational readiness. RIA technology not only can make existing HTML experiences better, it enables you to create things that you were never able to create on the web. As RIA technologies enable organizations to create new and more interactive user experiences, the skills and knowledge of your extended web team need to evolve with the technology. Creative designers, information architects, usability specialists, metrics analysts and others—in addition to your technology staff—will face new opportunities and challenges that come with switching from a page-based view of web experiences to a more fluid and interactive paradigm. Thinking beyond the constraints of HTML technology is one challenge. Increased rigor and focus on usability is also critical in order to develop experiences that do not burden the user with unnecessary graphical elements or motion that distracts them from the task at hand. Early examples of sites built with RIA technologies were littered with overly complex and obtrusive design elements that rendered the site experience nearly unusable—or just plain annoying. ©2009 Resource Interactive. All rights reserved.
  8. 8. Coming to an Interface Near You After weighing the pros and cons, if you’re still on the fence about investing resources in a rich internet application, consider a few milestones, predictions and statistics. Major portals such as Ask and Google have a wide enough reach to profoundly alter user expectations of a graphical user interface—in time. has added preview panels to your search results, so you can determine whether it’s worth heading to that home page. AJAX-powered Google Maps’ panning magic is turning everyone into latter-day Ferdinand Magellans. As for predictions, the technology and business research firm Gartner announced at a recent conference that there is an 80 percent chance that... “By 2008, Ajax-style (sites) will be the dominant style for rich internet application interfaces. ” Finally, there are academic findings in favor of RIA’s: in an often-referenced 2002 Stanford-Makovsky Web Credibility Study evaluating web site credibility as sensed by 1,481 participants, there was a significant correlation between slowness and lessened credibility and between good visual design (more so than content) and heightened credibility. And in The Essence of Effective Rich Internet Applications by Kevin Mullett and The Business Impact of Rich Internet Applications by Joshua Duhl, in the web sites studied, RIAs led to: O An 84% increase in online hotel reservations O A 25% increase in size of online retail orders O A 70% decrease in support center calls. Is it time for a RIA? Is this your tipping point? About Resource Interactive Resource Interactive is one of the nation’s preeminent digital marketing agencies, helping Fortune 500 companies thrive in the evolving internet economy with award-winning digital strategy, creative and technology solutions. Known for its revolutionizing consumer insights, leading edge interactive design and technological innovation, Resource Interactive is ranked among the top ten independent interactive agencies in the nation. Unique in the industry as female-founded, owned and operated, Resource Interactive has grown over its 28-year history from its first marketing relationship with Apple to ongoing partnerships with clients such as Procter & Gamble, Hewlett- Packard, The Coca-Cola Company, Victoria’s Secret, Sherwin-Williams and L.L. Bean, among others. For more information, visit ©2009 Resource Interactive. All rights reserved.
  9. 9. Litmus Test Try our Litmus test to determine whether or not you should make a rich internet application your next web site priority. 3 – Definitely 2 – For the most part 1 – Not at all 1. Does my site include multi-step processes that could be shortened or 3 2 1 streamlined by utilizing RIAs? 2. Are my products and services highly configurable or customizable? 3 2 1 3. Are my products or services a high-consideration purchase? 3 2 1 4. Are my competitors implementing RIAs? 3 2 1 5. Can men make product comparisons, read reviews and shipping information 3 2 1 easily, then be reassured about their choices through prominent branding? 6. Is my industry sector adopting RIAs at a pace that is impacting consumer 3 2 1 expectations? 7. Can my developers, designers, information architects and content creators take 3 2 1 advantage of what RIAs enable? Do we have the requisite skill sets? TOTAL How Did You Score Over 15? It’s your business’s tipping point for an RIA. Between 9-14? You should use this interval to prepare your IT staff and to research agency partners for RIA expertise. 9 or less? Educate yourself further, but spend your IT and marketing dollars on other initiatives. 343 North Front Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215 ph 614 621 2888 ph 800 550 5815 fx 614 621 2873 FOR MORE INFORMATION, EMAIL: ©2009 Resource Interactive. All rights reserved.