Rich User Experiences

As the Web 2.0 trend pulls us away from the traditional desktop oriented software model to a web based one, one of the biggest problem we encounter is replicating the same user experience online as we once had on the desktop.

Currently, a lot of online applications (e.g. Google Docs) are more or less light-weight versions of existing desktop applications we are used to working with (e.g. Microsoft Office) because they don’t provide the same level of functionalities as the desktop software. However, if the online server-client model is to persist and become ubiquitous, then it MUST match the user experience currently being offered by desktop applications. Having a rich user experience is a necessity for user acceptance over other solutions.

The phrase “rich user experience” encapsulates a multitude of different things including (but not limited to) functionality (what features the application provides), usability (how easy is it to use?) and presentation (is the GUI attractive?).

For example, let’s take the current market leader platform for providing such rich experiences that I have talked about: Adobe Flash. Wikipedia describes Adobe Flash concisely so I shall quote it instead of re-inventing the wheel:

Adobe Flash (formerly Macromedia Flash) is a multimedia platform that is popular for adding animation and interactivity to web pages. Originally acquired by Macromedia, Flash was introduced in 1996, and is currently developed and distributed by Adobe Systems.”

Today, Flash has become widespread and has reached a market penetration of 95 – 97%¹

Why did Flash become so popular? Because Flash provided web developers with a way to provide richer experiences than what standard HTML pages could. This included incorporating multimedia elements such as animations and video directly into the web pages. I don’t have exact statistics, but it is beyond a doubt that companies which used Flash to add richness to their websites would have seen their popularity rise.

Over the years we saw Flash take a strong market hold as many websites had some sort of flash on their pages, be it videos, advertisements & banners or any other components.

During subsequent versions, Flash included its own scripting language called ActionScript which allowed developers to build their own web applications using Flash. Users could interact using their computer’s input devices such as the keyboard, mouse, microphone & webcam. ActionScript itself evolved from a scripting language into an Object Oriented programming language, allowing users to build even more complex and richer applications using Flash.

In the end I think we can see that Adobe Flash is a perfect example of how rich internet applications can transform websites and provide richer user experiences which can only lead to greater user acceptance.

PS. Some other technologies that are interesting to look at are AJAX and Adobe Flex.

¹ http://www.statowl.com/custom_ria_market_penetration.php

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7 Responses to Rich User Experiences

  1. shengetastic says:

    Nice entry. Flash does seem a bit limited today, especially when compared to Microsoft’s Silverlight, which allows the use of more dynamic animations as opposed to Flash’s more traditional, static implementations. I guess we’ll really see the power behind Silverlight in the coming months or years when the whole AJAX phase kicks in to high gear and really takes off as companies and businesses begin to see what it can really do.

  2. shravan15 says:

    I agree with flash’s limitations in that respect, but have a look at Adobe Flex technology, it seems to be the upcoming platform from Adobe for creating Rich Internet Applications, it uses Flash but is much more advanced.

  3. ba1dish says:

    Great choice for explaining rich user experience. !!!

    i almost forgot about flash and it’s almost on 70% of the websites. i would remember that i would love to go back to flash based websites in high school. Showing cool animations and interactive GUI’s was always entertaining.

  4. shravan15 says:

    I agree Baldish, look how popular websites such as miniclip.com and others were and still are! Flash was really the new age technology when it was first introduced

  5. Amiel says:

    Thanks to you, I just realised how flash is so important in web 2.0 haha! Never actually considered Flash to be one of the main impacts of rich user experience! Very enlightening blog:) However, do you think web base applications will ever replace traditional desktop softwares in the future?

  6. shravan15 says:

    Hi Amiel,

    That’s a good question, I guess it would depend on whether the following are achieved:

    1. Can the network (Internet) support such heavy usage? Both in terms of speed and data (Australia has very poor broadband in both respects)

    2. Can the same level of functionality be provided? Not similar, but same and perhaps even more. Anything less would be a step backward.

    3. Can issues relating to cost, storage, processing, security, stability and data retrieval be mitigated or removed?

    in the end it has to be superior to desktop apps to have a motive to migrate!

  7. evansk56 says:

    There is certainly a market for Web only applications in the future. Look at the popularity of the upcoming Google Chrome OS….

    …. for this niche of user web based app’s are the bee’s knee’s. Basically removing desktop app’s altogether and replacing them with your browser and relying on web based applications for your day to day needs.

    Its a bit out there for me, but there is definitely a market for purelfy web based applications.

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