Zeldman is right to grouse. His annoying conference-goer encounter mirrors the agencies and content publishers who suddenly want to “leverage podcasting” or some other improbable combination of buzzwords. Marketing dollars are starting to flow back into the interactive space, and suddenly everyone wants to have a website that utilizes more acronyms then ever before.
Deploying a web presence that strongly depends on its implementation technology is a fallacy. You do not put the cart before the horse, or AJAX before the content. To paraphrase fellow Clockworker Nancy Lyons, you need to build the foundation of a website first—solid content, well-organized information architecture, a compelling design—not some mishmash of “Gee-whiz”.
Zeldman is correct in noting that the community-driven, AJAX-enabled social software craze will continue, not unlike a gold rush. There is electronic frontier out there. However, the same problems inherent of packing all your things into a wagon and heading into the wild West are present too in this new domain. The lack of AJAX usability conventions, efficient design processes, and standard development environments invites catastrophe after catastrophe for these web development pioneers. A select few will be able to engineer their ideas properly and before their competitors deliver; most of these developers will fail.
As Zeldman says:
“To you who feel like failures because you spent last year honing your web skills and serving clients, or running a business, or perhaps publishing content, you are special and lovely, so hold that pretty head high, and never let them see the tears.”
AJAX and the other buzzwords pouring out of the “Web 2.0” meme represent amazing capabilities. There are already a few sites that get it right (Flickr, anyone?). Web developers that ignore these emerging technologies will eventually be left behind. However, the existence of this new technology does not change the primary focus of the web: access to media. This content is the defining characteristic of the modern web site. Gee-whiz doesn’t need to be leveraged; content does. If the technology doesn’t improve the access to the content, it has no place on the web site.