Frontend Friday: Too much AJAX

Alex asked in last week’s Frontend Friday:

I just wanted to know how you decide how much AJAX is too much AJAX? You don’t seem to use much (if any) on this website.

It’s a good question, but the answer isn’t too straightforward: it will always depend on a large number of factors. For me, an indication of a developer/team getting too AJAX-happy would be when the site becomes unusable when JavaScript is turned off or isn’t working. For example,

  1. a website that loads all (or most) of its content via AJAX, therefore rendering the page content-less without JavaScript; or
  2. a website whose navigation is inaccessible without JavaScript.

JavaScript should enhance websites and applications, no doubt about that. Most, if not all, of the well-loved web apps of today are due to the snazzy-ness of AJAX. But we can’t always rely on JavaScript being present: even if users have it turned on, spotty connections and unexpected data returns can result in JavaScript being pretty much nonexistent. Progressive enhancement and/or graceful degradation should be important when working with JavaScript–whether or not you’re doing asynchronous calls or not.

However, like I said, the answer isn’t straightforward. Some applications really do rely on the existence of JavaScript, and for good reasons. Graceful degradation can be prohibitively difficult when you’re dealing with some specialized web applications, like mail: Yahoo! Mail and GMail come to mind. User interactions with both of these are so fine-tuned and uses a lot of convoluted interlocking parts, and degrading gracefully would be a pain. That’s why both apps have a no-JavaScript version as well (Mail Classic and Basic HTML view, respectively).

As for the second part of the question–no, Indiscripts doesn’t use any AJAX :) Mostly because I don’t see a need for it, or the “need” to use AJAX is lower than the time I have budgeted for designing and coding up my tech blog ;)