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Aaron Swartz: A Brief [and Flawed] History of Ajax
So let me add my own (in all probability at least equally flawed) account.
Techniques for updating page content w/o reloading have been plentiful over the years; when I mentioned lcom-talk (the little-used chat application you can reach from the column on the right-hand side) for the first time on 2002-07-04, there already was a cottage industry of toolkits - I remember DomRS and ARSCIF, specifically.
The problem back then was that I (and obviously many others) didn't think that relying on somewhat weird browser behaviour was a terribly good idea. How many had been burned badly back in the days of the browser wars, when features came and went on a monthly basis? Better stick to the slowly-changing core of client-side presentational capabilities and do the interesting things on the server.
In the meanwhile, an extremely positive development was actually a non-development: the complete stagnation of IE on Windows, by then by far the most widely used browser, providing both a stable (not perfect, but really pretty good) platform for web users and developers and (crucially!) a stable target for developers of alternative browsers to match - the most notable of those of course being Mozilla.
When it became clear that the Mozilla folks were serious about pragmatically matching IE functionality even when it didn't have the official W3C stamp of approval (the most visible probably being XMLHttpRequest, but also many others) and Google introduced Gmail, Google Maps &c., even casual observers noted a sea change.
A second independent implementation is considered the condicio sine qua non for demonstrating the viability of protocols. In the form of Firefox, Mozilla had become the second implementation good enough to be used for reasons other than religion and lack of alternative on niche platforms. The existence of an application in the media spotlight, expected to be used by millions of people, makes it dramatically harder for browser vendors in general and Microsoft in specific to kill functionality quietly and leaving developers in the dust.
And then, Jesse James Garrett provided the right label at just the right time.
Let's hope that in 2006 the techniques become natural enough to be applied at just the right places, at just the right dosage - and that funky fading is just that: a fad.
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