The Future of Rich Internet Application (RIA) Technolog

A good article by Elizabeth Montalbanco of IDG News Service was picked up by InforWorld:

She discusses how Adobe is becoming a “major player” in the platform market:”Over its 25 years, Adobe — a company known less for its dazzle than its dependability — has quietly turned itself into a multibillion-dollar software vendor on the strength of technologies that have become essential to computer users. Creative professionals would be lost without the graphic-design tools Photoshop and Illustrator, and Adobe Acrobat and PDF have made it easy for everyone to share documents cross-platform.But with its acquisition of Macromedia two years ago, Adobe also took on another role — as pioneer of providing a next-generation platform for developing rich Internet applications. RIAs, as they’re called, provide more intuitive and multimedia-rich user experiences on the Web than typical client/server or desktop applications, and are now in high demand as users expect more from their multimedia Web experiences with the rise in popularity of sites like YouTube and Facebook.” 

Disclaimer: I was interviewed for this article, so my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt :)

Random House has launched a new book reader. The book reader is built in Flex, and creates a 50 page (or so) preview for most of their books. It also allows people to embed a preview of a favorite book in their own website. The launch of the “Insight” widget is getting a ton of great press for Random House. The application is prominently displayed on their home page:

This was such a fun project to work on, effectiveUI‘s team really knocked this one out of the park…

Widget Wars: A New Hope
At a glance, the Random House offering is much nicer to look at, faster to load pages, and offers additional functions like search. So, if you want to know who winds the first round of the “Widget Wars,” Random House does.

Random House Debuts Its Book Search Widget
Yesterday, HarperCollins rolled out its “Browse Inside” feature that will eventually be available for all its books and could be embedded in blogs and websites. Not to be outdone, Random House debuted its “Browse and Search” widget. I like the Random House Widget better as it is just the cover and gives you the option of choosing a large or small version. I like the layout of the Random House browsing screen but it doesn’t allow you to change the font size and the screen display looks like a scanned image and not a true text one (the fonts were smudgy). Harper Collins browser loaded faster, but had an irritating watermark of the HC copyright on almost every page. It was easy to manuever with font size
choices and a table of contents.

Random House’s Insight Widget
So I received an e-mail from Random House about their new book search widget, called Insight: If you click on it, you should get a larger, more readable window and be able to look through the first 57 pages of The Book Thief by Markus

HarperCollins has released a “Browse Inside” widget that simply opens the Browse Inside feature in a new window (example), while the Random House widget is a bit more advanced: it lets you browse the pages of the book in the widget itself, and even pop out a large window so you can actually read the book as a slideshow. Even better: they’ve provided an option to copy the widget without leaving the page you’re on, and a “buy” link to buy the book on the publisher’s site. There’s also a book search to find other Random House books. Rupert Murdoch may own HarperCollins and MySpace, but RandomHouse is outshining them when it comes to widgets.

Speaking of nerdy widgets, Random House and HarperCollins just came out with their own book widgets while I slept. Both widgets allow you to read and search books, but the Random House widget is the clear winner for its self-contained design. Contrast it with the clunkier HarperCollins one. For a good example, check out the widget for Random House’s Meta Math by Gregory Chaitin. My only gripe is they should make these things easier to find on their site by putting them all in one place.

First Amazon, Google, now publishers …
“We believe Insight will be an invaluable marketing tool for our publishers,
our authors, and particularly our booksellers, as book content sampling
frequently is followed by consumer purchase,” Andrew Weber, Random House’s senior vice

Books Blog: A Conspiracy of Smart People –

RH Launches Its Own Widget
Not to be outdone by HarperCollins, which last week launched a browse-inside-the-book widget for selected titles in its digital library, Random House has unveiled its own widget, called Insight.

And Here comes Random House
Harper gets off to an early lead, bringing their ‘widget’ out first. But here comes Random House! Their slicker, more functional ‘widget’ is now out of the shoot. So the race is on! We’ve been working on a test with the Random House widget on our eloquence site. If you want to take a look at it in real life, click on the “Look Inside” link on this eloquence page.

The Book Standard
Random House Gives Insight
By Kimberly Maul

Book Excerpts Can Be Searched Online
NEW YORK — Random House, Inc. has made online excerpts available from books by Toni Morrison, Calvin Trillin and thousands of others as publishers continue…,0,1374207.story?coll=ny-technology-headlines

Publishers like Random House, HarperCollins hope move will drive sales
NEW YORK – Random House, Inc. has made online excerpts available from books by Toni Morrison, Calvin Trillin and thousands of others as publishers continue their push to sell more books through the Internet…….

US publishers allow book browsing on the Web
NEW YORK, Feb 27 (Reuters) – The dusty world of book publishing has taken a
step into cyberspace as Random House and HarperCollins letting customers
browse …

Book Excerpts Can Be Searched Online
AP 02.27.07, 1:28 PM ET. Random House, Inc. has made online excerpts available from books by Toni Morrison, Calvin Trillin and thousands of others as …

Random is offering the Insight program to other publishers as a service program as well, playing in what is shaping up to be a large field of vendors. Shatz says “those conversations are still in the pretty early stages.”

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In our internal marketing meeting last month, we made an attempt to better understand our customers . We took a look at the people we are currently working with and discovered that there were no commonalities in department, industry vertical, job title or pay grade. The big, “Ah-ha” moment for us was when we realized that these individuals all had a common persona: They are the champions of change within their organizations. If you look at the truly evolutionary applications on the web today, they are all championed by somebody that was willing to, in essence, stick their neck out for something they believed would make a difference. I thought it would be interesting to profile a couple of the people we are working with to understand how someone might identify that person of change within their own organization…

Who ARE the people that champion change?

Alan Lewis
Technical Evangelist, eBay
Alan, who has been working for eBay for 3 years as an evangelist on the eBay API infrastructure, had an “off the ranch” idea to build a desktop application on top of eBay”s robust SOA. He thought there was an opportunity to build a better buying experience for eBay shoppers; one that had a rich application feature-set and gave eBay a more prominent desktop presence.

Alan came to effectiveUI with only an idea… no budget approval or no initial internal support. His idea was to revolutionize the eBay buying experience by creating an engaging desktop application that focused on eBay shoppers. He knew that if he could simply “show” his idea to the eBay executive team, they would jump all over it (he was right). Alan pulled a few strings for a small budget to build a prototype.

That prototype was featured at the Max Conference last year and the DEMO conference this year, and is the flagship implementation for Adobe’s new Apollo platform. He understood the importance of quickly materializing an idea and how that visualization can have a catalytic effect on building internal momentum.

Alan’s ability to innovate was not only a testament to how a small voice can be heard to make a large organization shift towards positive progress, but also to eBay. Most large corporate structures are too rigid to foster a culture of innovation.

Allison Suhowatsky
Internet Marketing Group Manager, Wilton Industries
Wilton Industries is the leading supplier of cake decorating supplies and educational materials, and they occupy a substantial share of the crafting business in all verticals. The three main aspects of Wilton’s business are manufacturing of crafting products, publishing “how to” books, and education of crafters worldwide. Most of their business is entirely offline, with a strong presence in most well known craft supply stores.

Allison is known as the internet guru in the company. She champions innovative, online changes that are showing a huge ROI. For example, Wilton created a new product line of T-Shirt Transfer paper. Instead of following the “traditional” product launch formula, Wilton decided to augment the product by building a means to allow the customers who bought the paper to be creative (think of a very simple online version of illustrator). Wilton Easy Image was conceived and developed in just a few short months and just in time for the product launch at Michael’s.

Like Alan, Allison has an uncanny knowledge of her customers, her business, and the technology. She is able to visualize how to bring these aspects together to create new channels that engage existing customers and, most importantly, create new customers.

… The same story is true for almost all other clients I have dealt with over the last 5 years, weather it’s a top level executive, or someone just starting out in their career. Creative thinkers and problem solvers see RIAs and instantly “get it”.

Who struggles with innovation and change?

Last year I went to the research labs of a major consulting firm to introduce rich Internet application technology. I found myself in a room filled with more than 25 Computer Science PhDs, and another 30 or so overseas on videoconference.

I walked through my presentation, lots of nods and positive feedback assured me that all was well, that is until I came to a slide that discussed usability. One of our tenants of usability at effectiveUI is that an interface must emotionally connect with a user in a positive way. When I stated this I was challenged by one of the senior scientists:

“I don”t understand, what do you mean by “emotionally connect” ? I”m looking at these examples and I don’t feel emotional. I don’t have a connection with them at all”

I tried to explain:”
“Well, I don’t expect you to look at these and sob with enthusiasm, but these examples have a visually emotive feel to them” (It dawned on me that most developers don’t connect with the applications they build, what I REALLY wanted to say was: “Of course you don’t you’re a developer buried in code everyday, writing software for people like you, not for the everyday users”)

Then, someone else in the room said (I wish it had been me):
“Have you ever used a piece of software that you absolutely hated?”

— the response was a 30 second anti-application rant

“Can you imagine the opposite feeling to a piece of software?”

— “Yes”

“Well, I think that is what Anthony is talking about”

The point is that most people, even the super geniuses in your organization, may not understand how to conceptualize your customers, your business goals, and available technology and leverage this combined knowledge into a solution. If you ask Allison how she is able to effect change, she’ll tell you “its the right combination of prayer and badgering”…

Look for the most vocal advocates of usability, make sure they know your customers and business, give them a little room for a small failure here and there. You will rarely be disappointed with the results.

Great post from Ryan @ ZDNet, once again.

How Adobe is making big moves while no one’s looking

I would like to underscore Ryan’s point about Adobe showcasing their platform by
building their own innovative products on top of it. The value of the development platforms for Flash, Flex, LiveCycle, and the Acobat Suite are bolstered exponentially when Adobe can prove they have created successful commercial products on top of them…

I just watched the first round of presentations at Demo 2007. I would say that Katie Fehrenbacher summed it up pretty good on her blog:

DEMO 2007 Live

What is relevant to RIAs?

Adobe presented eBay Desktop to showcase their Apollo platform. Apollo lets you take your web applications and leverage them as desktop installed apps.

Why would you want to do that?

Companies that currently develop with Flash, Flex, AJAX, or HTML can take their existing applications and wrap them as an installable desktop application. This gives them the ability to leverage desktop functionality like toast notifications, file system access, and “occasionally connected” capabilities. To showcase the offline functionality, Mike Downey unplugged his laptop, and created an eBay listing, then plugged his network cable back in and the listing was automatically pushed back to eBay.

effectiveUI had a small mention as the team that designed and developed this application…

You can view the entire presentation here

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