Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) Are Dead

Over the last several months, we’ve been discussing with our clients the value of user experience. I’ve noticed a shift in our industry, one that I think is worth mentioning.

First, a bit of history. EffectiveUI started as a Flash development  company – Me, Andy, Drew, Geoff, Jim, Sean, RJ; all were admiring our ability to write beautiful code in AS3. At some point (I think it was at the time they all decided to kick me out of the development team:), we realized that there was more to what we were doing – we were all uniquely focused on creating more user friendly software… a focus on the UI. The term everyone started using : rich Internet applications. We liked it better than “Web 2.0″, because it was more descriptive – and it made us believe that we were part of a more unique, niche movement of developers that loved well designed software. When we added Lance to the team, our eyes were opened wide to the power of designer/developer collaboration. “Rich” really meant all kinds of interesting things… brand consistent, animation, skip intro, emotive experience, high design, useful… etc.

But times have evolved, our customers have evolved.

I’m not saying that we have evolved beyond the features of the RIA platforms – I’m saying that all software will need to live up to the original RIA standard. The original standard was simply: “make software that is connected, engaging, and respects user adoption over technical integration” – something we are all now calling a “focus on user experience”.

Marketing buzz words have value. “Social Networking”, “Web 2.0″, “Semantic Web”, “Cloud Computing”, “Rich Internet Applications” – but they also all typically have a shelf life. I’m suggesting “RIA” has reached this point. All great software from now on will be “rich Internet applications”, so the term “RIA” has no meaning. It no longer adds any truly descriptive value to the conversation.

Imagine a hollywood director today pitching a movie simply on the idea that he would film it in color… We need to stop stop talking about RIAs as though they are novel and understand that all software needs to value user experience and the connected world.

13 comments
  1. Noj said:

    Well said. With things like air and google gears more and more websites are going as RIA’s

  2. Justin said:

    Marked on the calendar as RIA died. What do you see to take it’s place as the new buzzword that descibes the need for user experience and the brand your own company is throwing in the ring?

  3. No way. If that were true, I’d be an out of work software consultant. On the plus side, I have seen more and more places, large and small, move to Agile from Waterfall… or something iterative at least. While I think it’s great we can do these things, not everyone can (hence consulting “save my project”), and you’re from a Fortune 55 company… so you’re biased (in a good way).

    That said, Justin has a point… there will always be a need for a buzzword. What is it?

  4. What you are indicating is that as the bar is raised to what a user expects, the “new” becomes the “norm”. I agree that users now expect an engaging experience and web sites that don’t keep up will be viewed as ineffective as the ones that still have pink backgrounds and the animated gif email box icon (you know who you are!).

    Expectations evolve and we are just about at the tipping point that an RIA experience will be expected. At that point, we can engrave the tombstone and place the marker.

  5. I think you’re point would be better stated with the subject “RIA’s are no longer the ‘it’ boy of the web application business”. There is still a huge market for RIA’s and those that develop them. But, as you state, there are other approaches that are equally if not more valued, depending on the needs of clients and expectations of users.

  6. Justin Freitag said:

    All “buzzwords” get used and abused. These days, I prefer to use “User Experience” over “RIA”, and I find it much more effective when communicating with others (be they technical or non-technical).

  7. I am finding more an more that this is the case. I think that’s why we as Flash Platform developers are in a unique situation to reap the benefits of this part of the development process. Let’s face it Flash Player is about rich, well designed and well thought out User Experiences. The more usable, nice looking your applications is …… it only complements the thousands of lines of code that you have written to make the thing actually run.

    The fact is, I doubt you would buy kick ass sports car if it looked like and old clunker. The engine may be awesome but you wouldn’t want to drive it.

  8. Hi, I was confused by how the title matched the essay… I think you’re saying “use of ‘RIA’ as a buzzword to sell projects is no longer enough to seal the deal”, is that it?

    Or are you also thinking that the concept of network applications is no longer relevant? If so, how?

    tx, jd/adobe

  9. … I’m only suggesting that the term itself is dead – from now on, all all good software will be both engaging and connected

    A suggestion for the new buzz-phrase: UX Focused Software

  10. meaning User eXperience Focused Software? Not bad, maybe even Applications Focused on User eXperience (AFUX) it sounds better …?

  11. I think EVERYTHING has a lifecycle, so it is certainly reasonable to consider that RIA has at least hit its midpoint, which means it is all downhill from here. What’s next is always the fascinating question at this point in the lifecycle of an expiring object. Usually the hardest to answer, until some bloke emerges from their ratty little garage with the next best thing. Ebay, Paypal, Microsoft, and even open source were all things that emerged as their predecessors were losing value and slowly expiring.

    What is that “next thing”? At a broader level, you could say that fax replaced couriers, email replaced fax, trucks replaced trains, yada yada yada (replaced and so forth). There is always a “next thing”.

    Like a couple comments suggest the thing being “replaced”, e.g. the concept of RIA, is not really going away, as much as it is becoming an established part of the world it inhabits. It loses the specialness and becomes the “normal”. Couriers, fax, and trains are not gone, they are just part of the background noise. High volume,low value commodities.

    So let’s get on with it. RIA is established and losing value. Still high volume, still supporting consultant paychecks, but that “next thing” is out there. It’s like the background drumbeat in Jumanji.

  12. After a second cup of coffee, the thoughts really kick in. It seems to me that there is a HUGE upside to the second half of an object’s lifecycle. In the case of RIA and the world most coders live in, as the aging thing happens, the market gets bigger. Yes budgets drop and clients expect more for less, but really (to me anyway) as you hit this midpoint, the fat part of the potential client list is there. Earlier on in the process you have access to the early adopters, the coasties, and others who are aware of early stage developments. This is the tiny part of the curve. As the lifecycle ages, awareness increases and more and more of the middle part of the curve of clients come into play. This middle part of the curve is where MOST of the clients are.

    So while the leading edge casts around looking for the next best thing. The remaining 80+% of the world can get on with using “things” like RIA, now that RIA is an accepted business concept, and the big part of the client world is aware, interested, and can increasingly afford to consume it.

  13. amy said:

    The interesting question is…if you weren’t in on the “early adopter” phase of Flash Platform, are you better off trying to benefit from the the “fat part” of the potential client list with RIA’s now, or would it be better to position yourself as an early adopter of the “next big thing” (maybe Augmented Reality http://www.insideria.com/2009/08/are-we-ready-for-universal-aug.html)?

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