Anne van Kesteren

Why Ajax isn’t Web 2

It has come to my attention that there are some people out there who think Ajax and its encapsulated technologies represent Web 2. I can assure that when you tell that to a random person at the company I work for — and other companies doing similar things, obviously — they will laugh you in the face. And when they don’t; they’re either lazy or feel pity for you. (They may even invite other people to join their smirking at you.)

Even the ‘official Ajax FAQ’ states that Ajax is nothing new and has been around for years. With the release of Internet Explorer 5.0 somewhere in March 1999 XMLHttpRequest was unleashed to the web through an ActiveX layer. From then on web developers were able to use its functionality for web applications. The recent outburst and joy about the technology is mostly thanks to Google; Gmail seems to have made people realize the possibilities of Ajax. Downside is that it totally goes against the idea of accessibility all ‘standard gurus’ adopted till. Apart from Mark Pilgrim most thought it was cool and went on with it.

Before you start to scream at your monitor, let me make some remarks. There is less a demand for total accessible web applications. Websites however are starting to adopt this technology too and some companies are building single page user interface languages around it; similar to Flash, but without the accessibility API. This could have been solved if the WAI would do something with javascript (hi Joe!), but such things generally take a long time. Still, defining the interaction between javascript and accessibility or some javascript accessibility API might be a good thing.

However, the W3C already has an alternative to Ajax: XForms. Now I’m sure not many people read weblogs from W3C members but I tend to do that — remember the being unique thing? Mark Birbeck is an invited member of the HTML Working Group and he has written two articles on how to implement Google Suggest using XForms and Google Maps (the basics). Of course, we can’t really style XForms or use it. Note that having a semantic solution for Ajax doesn’t make javascript more accessible; that is still a real world problem.

Now I’m not advocating for XForms in combination with XHTML2. XForms is the semantic counterpart to Ajax. But currently XForms’ semantic advantage is equal to its practical disadvantage. And since the real world wins from theory, I guess we’ll have Ajax for a long time. (When it comes down to the ‘actual’ form capabilities of XForms, I choose Web Forms 2. Backwards compatible, text/html compatible and it works in Internet Explorer to some extend.)

Mark Wubben told me people might call Ajax — its use, not the technology itself — Web 2 because it created some new kind of consciousness. Good point of course and I’d agree with him on that. However, if every time people starting to look at a different way to things bumps up the version number we would be a bit further than Web 2 by now. Remember web standards? From my point of view — and that’s why you’re reading this — Web 2 doesn’t and didn’t exist.

Web 2 will be based upon the unimaginable; different technologies than HTML or its backwards incompatible based on XML equivalent XHTML. Perhaps it will be RDF or Topic Maps. Probably it will be even more abstract, further than you realized it could go.

Even more in the future is the comprehension that computers are irrelevant. Life isn’t about answers, it’s about questions.


  1. I don't understand why people want to tag the web with a version number. In my opinion it's completely irrelevant. It's great to use the xmlHTTPRequest to make your site more usable but it doesn't change the web like we know it. The user is and will be always the center of the web. If a site isn't usable people won't visit it, if it's not accessible users will stay away. AJAX is a feature, a nice one but still a feature.

    Posted by Jurgen at

  2. The reason for giving things a name is quite understandable actually. Remember Ajax? Referring to a certain period of time or events — like the release of Gmail — is more complicated than saying: “Remember Web 1?” Terms are invented for easier communication. That doesn’t mean I agree with Web 2 though.

    Posted by Anne at

  3. Ajax and Xforms can play well together. The good folks at Orbeon are in the process to update their open source xForms (server side) engine (OPS) to use Ajax instead of full page round trips for xForms functionality. So Ajax becomes the means to have xForms with 2days browsers. Have a look at Open Presentation Server (OpenSource at ObjectWeb)
    :-) stw

    Posted by Stephan H. Wissel at

  4. Ok, so if I understand this correctly, Web 2 will be powered by metadata-on-steroids? I'm crazy about RDF as I've prettymuch always been, so if it'll be that or something similar this sounds very cool.

    Interesting enough, and I'm not implying anything by this at all, but XHTML 2.0 is also heavily metadata-conscious it seems.

    Posted by Charl van Niekerk at

  5. If we are going to tag the web with a version number, let's please get it right.

    It's Web 2.0. The .0 is important, as it suggests all the values and qualities one would normally associate with a .0 release.

    We're currently at something like Web 1.9 ... which is a world away from Web 1.0. So let's not forget the minor version number.

    (but yeah, it's all kinda dumb)

    btw:- forcing visitors to enter comments in xhtml is poor software design. Ensuring the validity of your pages is your problem, not mine.

    Posted by Drew McLellan at

  6. Hi Drew, thanks for dropping by. If the minor version is that important I’d argue that for the web, we need a couple of sub-minor versions as well, as it evolves daily. Also, for marketing it is much easier to say, and to write down, Web 2. Which is of course, the goal behind all this. Selling clients the idea that you are building ‘Web 2 internet applications’.

    On the comment system. Eventually you may enter ill-formed XML or even HTML and I’ll take it through Tidy. For now, this is an easy way of preventing people and spambots from making irrelevant comments. Because only if you have something to say you will take the trouble. And if you don’t, I plan to have trackback enabled soon.

    Posted by Anne at

  7. I don't understand why/how the term AJAX caught on. I wish it would just be referred to as what it is. Why don't we just start tagging methods of doing everything now with acronyms.

    Posted by Jeff Long at