Friday, June 26, 2009

Part II: Next-Generation Web Applications Require Elegant Presentation

Leveraging the power of the latest web technologies to “wow” the user

If you’re old enough to have used an IBM 3270 “green screen” or even MS-DOS at some point in your career, you know the exact opposite of elegant presentation. While enterprise software evolved from inconsistency and poor design through to client/server architectures and ultimately the web as a central design point, many things have changed, but one hasn’t: the end user cares immensely about elegant presentation. And, by “presentation” I mean the design, look and feel and the interaction model provided within the application.

Recently, I’ve been researching model Web 2.0 applications – looking for inspiration. I am positively impressed but still wanting a future full of even more capable and elegant, web-based products. As a resource, I’ve found Dion Hinchcliffe’s Web 2.0 Blog very helpful. He emphasizes that the web community gets smarter with every product release because it has become so organic, when he says:

“Not only do we have examples of great online applications and systems to point to and use for best practices, but the latest tools, frameworks, development platforms, APIs, widgets, and so on, which are largely developed today in the form of open source over the Internet, tend to accumulate many of these new best practices.”

Specifically, Hinchcliffe cites “clean, compelling application design” as among the most important attributes of a Web 2.0 application. For fun, some of the latest trends in web application design are published by Smashing Magazine. The primary point is that “attractive applications inherently attract new customers to try them and is a pre-requisite to good usability and user experience.”

I’ll provide an example of elegant presentation (below), taken once again from my favorite Web 2.0 application – JasperServer.

Our goal has always been simple, intuitive behavior, so the product doesn’t get in the way of the user exploring the data (which is the real star of the show in a BI application). While we (at Jaspersoft) can cite a wide number of things we plan to improve in our design and interaction model, we shouldn’t forget that our current product, based entirely on Web 2.0 techniques and technologies, makes use of many state-of-the-art features and is designed to deliver a great user experience.

I’ll use this screen shot again and others in my next post as I continue to discuss the requirements for successful next-generation web applications. Stay tuned for my personal favorite: “End-User Customization."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Part I: Next-Generation Web Applications Require Ubiquitous Access

If you think Google created Android because it wants to compete in the mobile phone market, think again.

Delivering rich, interactive content to you, consistently, whether you’re using a desktop computer or wireless mobile phone is Google’s agenda. With great influence on the mobile device’s operating environment (รก la Android), Google can more specifically control the information served to those devices. Ideally for Google, there would be precious few moments of your waking life when you’re not interacting with some Google service.

Fundamentally, anyone building a new web application should understand that constant and consistent access to the same systems and data, from every computing device, is a top design goal. More distributed workforces combined with more time working remotely and traveling, and the ever-expanding workday requires that knowledge workers today not only be in touch, but be online. If your application and data access experience is compromised because of the computing device, the application service wasn’t designed properly, period.

As example, I’ll use the web application I know best – JasperServer, which (shown below) is delivering access to an executive dashboard through two leading smart phones.

It doesn’t matter that the display device is a smart phone or PDA, because the executive dashboard looks and behaves similarly to its desktop counterpart. Why? Because the application relies on open standard, server-side technologies that operate uniformly within a full-featured web browser. And, it shouldn’t matter where that browser is running because even mobile web browsers are supporting advanced web technologies, like AJAX and Flash. So, designing and delivering for ubiquitous access should be the new norm. Fortunately, open standards (and open source) are largely driving this technological convergence. Good thing as these handhelds now pack the processing power of a full personal computer and users will expect their applications to work properly regardless of the device at the end of the bitstream.

Delivering ubiquitous application and data access for enterprise workers is just the first of four technical requirements of next-generation web applications. Next post, I’ll explore the second topic in my four-part series: “Elegant Presentation”.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A New Blog Series: Next-Generation Web Applications

With Google Wave, the venerable web company is charting the course of new web-based application design, this time in the area of collaboration. If you ever wondered what the intersection of next-generation email, blogging, instant messaging, and wiki-like collaboration might look like all inside a browser, this new open source project is for you. You can watch the entire Google Wave announcement (at the I/O Conference) here.

I see Google Wave as another strident reason why harnessing the power of information, inside an enterprise, will begin to look more and more like the consumer-oriented web. The next-generation knowledge worker won’t struggle with the trade-offs that those of us who grew into computers and the Internet during the course of our careers have had to deal with. And, this transition will occur just in time – as the aging workforce in the world’s most developed economies retires at its fastest pace ever, only to be replaced by younger workers with consumer-like expectations for the way IT systems and applications should behave. You might recall that I’ve referred to this phenomenon in a past post as “The Consumerization of Information”.

In my next four posts, I’ll describe the major web-based application design points that help define the simplicity and usefulness of this next generation of web-based applications. So, to prepare any application project for a much-less bridled future, everyone should deeply understand:

I. Ubiquitous Access to both systems and data

II. Elegant Presentation that leverages the power of the latest web technologies

III. End-user Customization that enables personalized improvements, mash-ups and combinations that appeal to each individual

IV. Integrated Collaboration that helps connect people with information and ideas simply and intuitively.

I’ll use my next four posts to expand on each, in order. And, I’ll look forward to your comments and suggestions to make these four points more powerful and complete. I’ll be looking for ideas on Twitter (follow me at @BrianG_Jasper or @Jaspersoft), as well.