Friday 17 February 2006

Jeremy Keith and the Truth About Ajax

LAST FRIDAY I HAD THE PLEASURE of attending Jeremy Keith’s Ajax Training Workshop. Hosted by clear:left, the Brighton, UK Web design and interaction company run by Jeremy and his wonderful partners Andy Budd and Richard Rutter, the event was a real eye-opener for a non-scripting person such as myself.

It was a lucky break that I was able to be in London for the event. Having seen Jeremy speak at SXSW and @media 2005 and helped out as a reader for some of the early chapters of his fantastic new book, DOM Scripting: Web Design with JavaScript and the Document Object Model, I knew that I was exactly the sort of person who needed this workshop.

My goal? To gain an understanding not specifically of the how of Ajax, rather, the reasons why (or why not) to use it. I needed better context for the subject so that when I am writing, teaching and working on markup and CSS related issues, I can better understand the way DOM scripting and other technologies including XMLHttpRequest fit into the big picture.

Jeremy is a particularly interesting person to learn from. Not only is he extremely smart and very capable of making complex concepts seem easy, but he possesses a unique ability to cut through hype and get to the real heart of a given issue. Add to that a keen wit, and the day was not only informative but quite fun.

“I wrote a book on DOM Scripting but if you can avoid using it avoid using it”

The most important thing I took away from the event has a lot less to do with Ajax and a lot more to do with good practices. Jeremy is all about unobtrusive JavaScript, which is a critical aspect for professionals seeking to create well-designed, functional and more accessible sites.

The perspective here is that JavaScript is an enhancement, not a replacement, for functionality. So, first ensure that your forms and other function-related features work using server-side technology, then add DOM scripting. Always question, and test, whether functionality remains present and usable without JavaScript.

Jeremy spent a good deal of time on related practices including JSON and AHAH, giving his thoughts about each and why and when one might consider using either for a given task. Robert Nyman’s ASK (Ajax Source Kit) was discussed, as was the work of Mike Stenhouse, who happened to actually be in da house!

Wrapping up with an excellent session on accessibility, Jeremy pointed out where the challenges really are, and why we have to be very careful when using any technology, reiterating the importance of thoughtful construction with an eye on usability and accessibility at all times.

When it comes to Ajax and related approaches, Jeremy has an interesting philosophy. He’s focused on the small stuff, the little enhancements that mean a lot. Elegance, intelligence and a light hand in everything we do is the gospel Jeremy preaches, and it’s more than sensible. It allows developers and designers to implement the cool stuff but do so without sacrificing all of the benefits related to Web standards and accessibility.

Speaking of which, there were four, count ’em, four Web Standards Project (WaSP) members present for the day. That would be me, Ian Lloyd, Bruce Lawson, and Jeremy himself. There would have been five, but Malarkey couldn’t make it in quite on time. Driving all the way from Wales and hitting London traffic was to blame, but he was able to join for the after session chats, which were fun and enlightening.

It makes me proud as Mama WaSP to see so many standards advocates, and many supporters and colleagues, present and interested in continuing to further the Web’s vision without compromising quality and professionalism. Professionals in this industry are well aware this is not an easy balance to strike. We face a tangled mess of sites from past years which we are challenged to manage, maintain and retrofit; and we are similarly challenged to design and implement best practices and processes for current and future work.

All in all a fantastic experience. I must add a special note of thanks to Andy and Richard for putting together an excellent day, and of course to Jeremy, who is an unselfish, warm, funny and skilled teacher from whom anyone would be fortunate to learn.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 21:42 | Comments (15)

Comments (15)

  1. DOM Scripting seems like it would be an excellent read for you Molly. I too did indeed enjoy the book.

    I’ve yet to meet Jeremy, but in due time, I’m sure we’re still on for the beer.

  2. LOL @ Mama WaSP. A very fitting nickname indeed.

  3. Pingback: The Think Drastic Journal » Clearleft Ajax Workshop: Javascript, the DOM, Hijax and the downside :

  4. The dawn of AJAX, Ruby on Rails and the like remind me of the early days when Javascript was starting to come of its own. We had pages that sparkled and twinkled, text that followed your cursor, and scrolled down the page with you. All of it was very cool and a technological achievement. Only it detracted from the content and functionality of the page/site. Worse still is that sometimes content was sacrificed to do the tricks. While we don’t see as much of this now, Ajax is just coming of its own. I agree with Jeremy approach, start small, start smart, and just because it can be done doesn’t mean you should do it.

  5. Hi Molly,

    While looking for a ‘refresher’ on my javascript knowledge I bought Jeremys book (along with DHTML Utopia by Stuart Langridge) and I must say it is a fantastic read. I already knew a good bit of javascript, but involved a lot of inline event handlers. I’m now fully up-to-date on all this unobtrusive gubbins 🙂

    As for ‘AJAX’… don’t get me wrong, it’s great and it can do so many wonderful things, but I just think it’s being used way too much these days. As Joe says above me, “…just because it can be done doesn’t mean you should do it”. Amen 🙂


  6. Sounds like it was a great workshop. I wish I could have been there.

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  8. Hi Molly,

    Glad you had a good time at our workshop. It was a pleasure to have you there. You’re not wrong about Jeremy’s presentation skills, something I’m personally rather envious of 🙂

  9. Hi,

    I was about to post saying that there are exceptions to the idea of only using AJAX or DOM scripting as an enhancement. For example, cases where you’re doing a web application (like an Intranet or some kind of groupware) with limited deployment and you can ensure that your users all have a standards-compliant browser (or a particular one, even).

    However, when you think about real-world accessibility, that whole argument just falls flat. You might not have any people who require assistive technology in your organization or audience today, but you may tomorrow (not to be a total downer, but it could even be you). Then what? Rewrite the whole thing overnight? I don’t think so.

    So… yup. Make it work the “plain” way first, then add enhancements… which if done well can truly enhance the experience.

    Anyway, I wanted to share that little thought process for the benefit of anybody else who had the same mistaken idea, however briefly. 😉

  10. Thanks for this Molly. I’m looking forward to hearing Jeremy, and of course yourself, speak at @meida2006 even more now.

  11. Love your beatiful

    broccoli isn’t so bad as long as you know how to cook it.

  12. thanks for your sharing

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