A long time ago, about 10 years back, we were talking about moving desktop applications to the Online World. Server requests and delays associated with typical web transactions made the adoption of heavily transactional “Office”-like applications on the Web not an easy task.
Now that Ajax has come along, the way we interact with web apps is going to change forever. Just take a look at Google Maps and GMail to understand what I’m talking about.
The text you are reading now was written with Writely, which is a text editor similar to MS Word but with two big differences: It’s online and it’s free. I can access this application from wherever I want, share the documents with my team and save them locally in a number of formats (doc, pdf, rtf, etc).
Writely is an easy-to-use application that includes everything I need to write a document without the overload of functions offered by MS Word and, best of all, it is free. (For how long? Nobody knows…) There are enough features for basic needs, which is what the great majority of users want. For those in need of advanced functions to create documents like annual corporate reports, there’s still some work to be done, but a major paradigm shift is taking place. All desktop applications will soon be online and we will use them through our browsers.
Applications like Google Maps are examples of a new age of Web development, which has been called Web 2.0: Simple interfaces, easy to use and without long delays between clicks. Even more important: at the heart of the design of these applications lies the user, who is finally acknowledged.
As stated on the Web site of 37signals, a small company developing Web applications like the ones I just mentioned: “We believe software is too complex. Too many features, too many buttons, too much to learn. We build web-based products that do less, work smarter, feel better, and are easier to use. We pay enormous attention to the details and overall customer experience of our products.”
Sooner or later every Web site will have to consider this new way of designing applications which will improve the user experience. To ignore this approach might put companies at risk of losing valuable users in the long term.