Ajax: Real Time Collective Action
Posted by miriamannelevy
A big buzzword in my field is “Real-Time”. Every company wants real time applications with automatically updating interfaces for increased usability. Real-time allows users to think less and do more. People don’t have to request for the latest statuses when they are already using a web application, the application will tell them there is an update.
Jack Jameison discusses Ajax’s role in the Web 2.0 world in his article Many (to platform) to many: Web 2.0 application infrastructures. Ajax is simply a combination of technologies that allows user interfaces to be updated automatically when the server tells it to. An application that uses this technology allows interfaces to automatically send or receive messages from a server without provocation from the user. This has drastically changed how use the internet, and what we expect from it.
Jameison voices his skepticism about web technologies such as Ajax because this revokes control from users, giving less visibility into how they are really interacting with the web application. One example might be that you receive a message you don’t want to respond to from someone online. Now they have a status to tell the other user that you read that message just from you being online and it popping up on your screen. Now the situation may be awkward, and can definitely be an unintended behaviour.
While real-time applications do come with unintended behaviours, they have also opened up new doors for how we communicate with each other online. Rheingold discusses and divides “collective action” in the online world as three different categories: cooperation, coordination, and collaboration (p. 153). Collective action has been empowered by real time capabilities of the web. Automatically updating interfaces helps provide a more active feeling to participation when you know that someone has read or replied to your comments online. Collective action has become much easier, especially with the development of smart phones. Most people in my city use Facebook to communicate and arrange meetings. Too many times I’ll be notified that the location of the meetup has changed or people have had to change the time. This helps encourage a level of trust between people who are trying to coordinate meetups. I do not miss the days when I was stood up because nobody could tell me that the plans had changed.
Real-time applications give the ability to broadcast messages to users of a system, whether it’s an amber alert or your current location. Sharla Stone discusses in her article Real-Time Disaster Relief how applications were developed just for tracking people who needed help in disastrous situations. The applications provided the ability to track rescue requests in real time, find resources for people who needed help, and help in information sharing where it was previously difficult to do without the help of technology.
Applications and movements like this always inspire me and make me want to join. Hopefully I will be able to participate in something as meaningful as this in the future.
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