Teaching Examples

What are ‘Rich Internet Applications’?
March 10, 2006, 2:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A student asked me this recently. He had seen the phrase “rich media” in an article and thought the author was trying to coin a new phrase. I’m familiar with the phrase through Macromedia (now part of Adobe), which has long used the term to refer to Flash Web sites that incorporate databases.

This week, a member of the Online News Association e-mail list sent out a link to an article about testing Rich Internet Application technology before you chuck it out there on your Web site. The article comes from the Direct Marketing Association, which explains why the sites examined were J. Jill, Kayak.com, Banana Republic, MyRatePlan.com, Google Local and L.L. Bean.

You’re wondering what this has to do with journalism. Well, it wasn’t I who sent the link to the ONA Listserv — so I’m not the only one who thinks there is an important lesson for journalism in these “RIAs.”

First, according to the DMA article, in a study of those six Web sites, a consulting firm confirmed that it’s very important to conduct usability testing. The consulting firm “recommends that companies work closely with their target audiences for a better understanding of their needs, goals, and expectations.”

That is something news organizations don’t do. News organizations look at ratings and circulation numbers after the fact and interpret them like ancient Chinese oracle bones tossed into the fire, but — ahem! — working with the audience to find out what would work best for the audience? No.

Second, the consulting firm said users liked these “three main success points” on all six Web sites tested:

  • Ability to explore sites without slow and often frustrating page refreshes. But some news organizations have deliberately ADDED slow page-refresh techniques to artificially increase their “unique page views.” The users found that “sites with RIAs were quick and responsive.”
  • Visualization tools: “Users were delighted to be able to create custom products online, such as selecting a paint color for the interior of a home and seeing a room painted that color.”
  • Single-screen environment: This refers to a package in which “all data entry and validation occur within a single screen.” This contributed to the users’ assessment that they could get things done “faster and easier, while receiving the kind of immediate feedback that they are looking for.”

RIAs for journalism may or may not incorporate databases, but they certainly should provide a “faster and easier” experience.

Of course, the consulting firm that conducted this study is one that “designs and builds Internet-based solutions” exactly like the ones tested. Yet I am willing to consider the findings of this study because as an online consumer, I share the sentiments reported — I love a single-screen environment. I hate scrolling. I hate overcrowded Web pages bloated with animated advertising. Why is the BBC News home page my favorite source for news? Because it is fast and easy to use.

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