Monday, January 21, 2008

What is a RIA?

I'm going to spend a lot of time over the next few months talking about RIAs so why don't we get a definition out of the way now. I used the word RIA in my last post and received some feedback wondering exactly what it meant so here we go.

RIA stands for Rich Internet Application. At times you will also hear it defined as Rich Interactive Application, particularly by Microsoft, since most of the aspects can also apply to desktop apps and in some cases an online RIA can be ported to work on the desktop pretty much as-is (via XAML). Wikipedia has a pretty good overview which I highly recommend as a starting point in learning about them.

In short a RIA is basically a front end to an online application which is user friendly, graphically 'pretty', user friendly, responsive and user friendly. Did you catch on to a theme there? If not let me spell it out for you U S E R F R I E N D L Y. No amount of graphics or flashy interface will make an application user friendly without thought into how many ways the user will use the application, what they would logically expect it to do and then making those things happen.

In my opinion a true RIA isn't just fancy graphics and cool animated buttons, but an interface that is clean, intuitive, responsive and accomplishes it's goals without overloading the user with options and abilities that they don't want or need. I'm not saying I like Jacob Nielson's basic text layouts, far from it I'm just saying that adding animation or drag & drop or whatever just because you can instead of for a real usability concern just annoys users and makes the app less user friendly instead of more. Both animation and drag & drop and all the other niceties are very useful and are needed in some cases, just not all.

Here are a few other sites and articles with some RIA info:

This is only a sample of an information base that is growing daily. In future posts I'll talk about some of the technologies, methodologies and such as related to RIAs.

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