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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The pros and cons of AJAX are important to the 50-plus

Webcredible has an excellent article about the benefits and problems of using AJAX.

AJAX or Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (don’t be put off by the techno speak) is a way of using existing technologies to create highly interactive web applications. AJAX allows portions of the page to be updated without having to refresh and reload the entire page.

The advantages
It can create drop down menus that change depending on what the user has keyed. It can create things like drag and drop sliders. It gives the web designer a new range of ways of making the user's experience more interesting and effective.

The potential problems
For people that use software that ‘reads’ the screen it can cause real hassles since most of them only react when a web page is changed. With AJAX the page does not necessarily refresh.

Users with a screen magnifier might not notice changes that have occurred outside the areas they're interacting with. They can therefore miss out on important information especially if the changed content takes place above their current location on the page.

I think the biggest problem is that users, who are not that web literate, will not know how to use the new features it enables. In fact they might end up being confused rather than assisted by them.

The article makes some sensible recommendations:

Inform users early in the page that dynamic updates will occur

Highlight the areas that have been updated

In case of an advanced AJAX application, consider providing an HTML alternative.

Clearly AJAX is here to stay and is a great tool for providing improved web site functionality. Just remember that it has some downsides that affect the 50-plus. Dick Stroud

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