Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
I am the chief technical officer at InVision App, Inc - a prototyping and collaboration platform for designers, built by designers. I also rock out in JavaScript and ColdFusion 24x7.
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Ben Nadel at cf.Objective() 2009 (Minneapolis, MN) with:

The Problem with AJAX

By Ben Nadel on

I think AJAX looks really cool. I haven't had a chance to really dive in and get to use it, but I looking forward to it. Using some other people AJAX-intensive sites I can really see where it can be handy. But, there is one thing about some sites using it that drive me Crazy! It's the whole problem with the back button. In AJAX, since you are not really leaving the page, the back button does not work as expected. Hitting the back button does not load the previous content (as one would expect), but in fact sends you the previous page (the way the browser interprets this), therefore, taking you away from what you want to see.

Now, granted, maybe I am not the "target" user. Maybe I am a bit of a power user. I don't like using the mouse. The less I have to go to my mouse, the faster I can do things, and the less my right wrist hurts (blasted carpel tunnel). So for me, I love using things like the space bar, ALT-TAB, and especially the Back Space button to go back in the browser. And, even when I am using my mouse, it too has a "back space" button. Both back space methods are not AJAX friendly, but are highly incorporated in my daily life.

Gmail seems to work well with the back space button, and I know they are hugely into AJAX, so I know it can be done. Maybe some of these people should reprioritize the user experience over the page load time.

My other BIG issue is that I love you hold down SHIFT when clicking on links to open them up in new windows. Most of the time, I just want to check out a linked page without leaving the current one. AJAX style links prevent this most of the time because their HREF attributes are javascript calls, not acutally page links. So, then, I get a pop-up with nothing in it.

Seems silly to me that a methodology such as AJAX which is meant to create a better user experience is acutally slowing me down and making my browsing more complicated. I can understand catering to the general user, but not at the expense of a power user.

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Reader Comments

I cant believe you have issues with Ajax! Ajax is amazing, so amazing that we have only just scratched the surface of what we can do with t. Yes google may do some stuff with it, but there is still plenty more that can be done with it. Just the other day i started to make something through Ajax that would plug in GPS, Google maps and Ajax so that when I go to a web site i can see where I left my car keys! well..ok.. that one was a lie, but it would be really great if somoene made that web site (hint, hint). But Ajax has so many possibilities. I am sure people had similar opinions of javascript when it came out. We are on the edge of a new revolution. Can ya feel it? Cool, huh?

I find both of these posts to be a bit narrow based on a particular user's preferences. The original posting makes the assumptions that all "power users" avoid using a mouse and that using a mouse inherently slows you down". I disagree with both of those premises, but I do agree that any new technology should consider ways that different types of people prefer to interface with their computer.

The second posting says you're an idiot if you don't embrace Ajax immediately. I think that the first postings comments on the back button address some very pertinent deficiencies. I've seen Ajax based apps where the entire experience is a single page.

Ajax is obviously very important and a huge step in getting more "rich" apps on the web. We need to look past the hype and flash, however, and think about how real users use it. If there are problems -- which there ALWAYS are with any new concept, then they should be identified so that they can be addressed in later releases.

I don't see this as a problem with AJAX, but a problem with a self titled "power user" OE. Calling yourself a PU is as tastless as others claiming "Computer Illiteracy." People lust after titles. Maybe you should load up lynx and go all text based since the mouse if just too difficult for you. Tabbing through links on a page is so fast ya know.

<BACK> means window.history.go(-1) Get used to it, that is how it has operated for years. The biggest problem with AJAX, is designers not creating efficient navigation into their sites, which has nothing to do with AJAX.

-Super User

Here I am, a Ben Nadel convert, reading REALLY old blog posts IN ORDER!

Anyway, I think that the previous comments were way too defensive about Ajax.

I think that Ben points out some interesting challenges to good and proper use of new web features such as Ajax. I also think that Google has done a great job of NOT using Ajax where it should NOT be used and only using it where it SHOULD be used. That is why Ben's back button works in most places on Gmail.

Most definitely, I agree. This was a very early post :) I think the AJAX is the same as any newly used technology - if you don't use it properly, it can harm user experiences and if you do use it properly, it can rock your world.

David Droddy: Here I am, a Ben Nadel convert, reading REALLY old blog posts IN ORDER!

Here I am 3 years later doing this exact same thing. lol

I really love these old posts. Six years! What a tremendous amount of growth we've seen. Now you are a JavaScript Ninja!