James Governor's Monkchips

On blogging, AR, Adobe Getting It, David Mendels and “Rich Internet Apps: How We Live Now”

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One of the intriguing dynamics about being an industry analyst and blogger is that many AR people and executives don’t understand some the dynamics involved. Understandable if frustrating, given the fact the industry analyst business is now fairly mature and has some clear lines of engagement. According to some perfectly reasonable definitions RedMonk is not an industry analyst firm, which is fine by me.

You see we do things differently, so its to be expected that we look kind of funny. Its a core RedMonk belief, enforced by 6 years or experience, that the internet provides the best platform ever designed for peer-review. The internet is not just a publishing mechanism. Its so much more than that. We don’t think people actually need to work at our firm to engage in research with us. Why do we enjoy the unconference format so much? Because we’re all in this together: learning, thinking, debating. At RedMonk we know that not only do we not have all the answers, but that by opening up we become smarter. Which is where it can be a bit frustrating. Many vendors are deeply uneasy about commenting on a blog in public (either because it says something positive “leave it alone” or something negative “how can we fix this privately with a minimum of fuss”). IBM for example, for all its written blog policy, rarely comments on Monkchips, even when articles are widely read, and or passed around behind the firewall. RedMonk blogs are at their best though when fixes, complaints, agreements and so on are written into the blog (research as social object) itself. Participation makes the Internet better. It makes us all smarter.

At this point I would just like to change gear, to commend Adobe generally, and Senior Vice President David Mendels specifically, for understanding the read/write dynamic. David is a dedicated commenter, if not a prolific blogger. He has recently decided to leave Adobe, which will be a loss to the company (not that it doesn’t have a deep and wide technical management bench). David deserves massive credit for helping to open up the company’s platforms, setting it on a new course. Think Flex (open sourcing the SDK), PDF (From Open Format to Open Standard), Tamarin, Open Screen Project and so on. David is a deep thinker and it has been a privilege working with someone that takes RedMonk’s passion about openness in such good heart. I remember our first meeting over dinner when everyone else was ashen-faced as we went at it hammer and tongs about whether or not PDF was an open standard. I was getting kicked by people under the table, but David was engaging, in both senses of the word.

A few weeks back in San Francisco we ran an unconference, which Stephen summed up well here. I wrote up one of the sessions in a piece entitled Rich Internet Applications: “This Conversation Is Bullshit”. So imagine how pleased how I was when David, one of the progenitors of the term Rich Internet Applications, instead of getting all defensive, opened up and put a solid thesis forward. I am going to publish it here again in full. Read it. Think about it. This is a guy totally invested in RIA, with a responsibility to shareholders and customers, and he uses a blog to put forward a simple but powerful thesis which might be summed up simply: RIA, Its How We Live Now. Never mind all the technology implementation details – what matters is a better web experience. I am egotistical enough to think RedMonk helped David come to this pragmatic view. And I find it interesting that a guy who is currently easing himself away from his corporate duties is still helping to set the record straight.

I was one of the people involved in coining the phrase “RIA” at Macromedia in the early 2000s (along with a core group of Jeremy Allaire, Kevin Lynch, and Adam Berry if I recall. I am not not sure who first hit on the final coinage, it was the product of a series of discussions.).

Here is the thing: it had a very clear meaning *at the time* and was a clear contrast to the prevailing mass of applications on the web. Now that the entire web has evolved dramatically, the contrast is largely gone and the phrase is not less meaningful, but certainly less useful.

At the time, we were in a world of page based web apps. Applications that were using the page request model of the browser to deliver very limited interactivity and client side functionality, and led to frustrating repeated refreshes of the page to do anything. The iconic example we and many used at the time was the Broadmore hotel reservation site. As a Web 1.0 app, it was a long series of HTML pages just to complete a hotel reservation, and it suffered from all the problems of the day (eg, if one made an error and tried to go back, you lost all the info you had entered in the previous pages and had to start over.)

What we saw them do was create a single screen application with rich interactivity on the client, but still all of the benefits of being a web based application (nothing to install, back end connectivity for inventory and other data using XML, use of client side media/animation to guide the user, reachable through any browser, etc.) We really looked at this as the best of web applications and the best of desktop applications: rich connectivity, platform independence, no install, lightweight as well as rich client side logic and interactivity, ability to integrate rich media and communications. But we dropped the baggage of the page based metaphor that basically required a page refresh for everything and got beyond the layout/graphics/media constraints of HTML.

So I think the definition made quite a lot of sense, and it was I think a very valuable coinage to capture an emerging class of application that was radically better than the mainstream at the time.

Now, at that time, much of what I described as RIA could *theoretically* be done with DHTML (now called AJAX) but the reality is that it was not yet sufficiently browser independent and there was little uptake of it after the first burst (and abuse) of DHTML in the late 90s.

Fast forward to today. The term is less useful because it describes the mainstream. Today a large percentage (a majority?) of web applications are “single screen” and use AJAX techniques to update the screen without refreshing the page gratuitously and the major browsers and JavaScript libraries are sufficiently mature that it is quite possible to create platform/browser independent apps with AJAX. Similarly, the use of rich media, usually Flash, is widespread. Of course, over this 8 years, the Flash Platform approach has matured with richer frameworks (Flex..), tooling, components, messaging, and even richer media (H.264 video, for example). But the paradigm is still the same as we saw when we coined the phrase RIA, it just isn’t quite as “unique” and a contrast to the mainstream that it was. Debating the meaning of the phrase “RIA” has become kinda like debating the meaning of the phrase “application” because most are RIAs. So a more interesting debate (to me) would be: OK, so (a) how can we advance the state of the art to build/debug/maintain such applications rapidly and (b) what is the next major paradigm shift in a world where small screen internet connected non-PC devices out number PCs.



Right on David. As if to further confirm my thesis James Ward, a buddy of mine, also posted on my blog to clarify his position with respect to human to service interactions.

What is the takeaway for company execs? Comment on blogs. It won’t hurt you. Its important to join the conversation. There are other ways to gain clarity, or obtain a correction, than account control. You can engage and it will help all of our research agendas.

Adobe and IBM are both clients.


  1. Great post.

    Historical, topical, interesting and an opportunity to turn the page on the evolution of the internet app – I remember first discussing RIA and Adobe’s play in this arena with you and many other fans and non-fans years ago and it truly was an engaged (pre-RIA definition) discussion back then. Two things:

    1) I think not just executives, but all passionate employees should be able and willing to enter the discussion, add to the research and ensure that the agenda, motivation, technology specifics and strategic patterns are being discussed appropriately. What I loved about David’s response here was that he did not wax defensive, but supported a significant change having transpired in the evolution of the internet application. He took appropriate credit for this as well, and in fact Adobe continues to “eat their own caviar” on this vision with things like AMP, Kuler, Photoshop Express and other interesting projects.

    2) The definition of RIA, and the ensuing heated and animated discussions about it, along with the emergence of Silverlight, JavaFX and other frameworks that support this type of development are proof that there was a spark in the RIA idea worth emulating – and that perhaps the original vision of this was not just based on Flash, but a broader appeal to the internet community to do more with what we had. With so much of the vision around “human to service interaction” and “self learning” and “enterprise class” that folks like James Ward, Duane Nickull and Christian Cantrell respectively have yet to be realized, I find it a bit unfortunate that we haven’t gotten past the “slick UI” and “widget” discussion and really propogated the patterns to an enterprise level nor made it readily available on mobile – Open Screens is another step in the right direction though.

    I used to work for Adobe and was on David Mendel’s team along with James, Christian and Duane. If there was a problem with vision or how Adobe handled the discussion of RIA, it definitely wasn’t in this group of people in my experience.

    I feel like someone (still) from Adobe should get the first comment on this post, but I just happen to be awake first 🙂

  2. From an enterprise point of view, the great thing about AJAX was that we could get the snappy response of client/server apps with a browser. The great thing about browser-based apps was that you could build them such that data did not persist on the local machine. That lack of persistence reduced the risk of data loss and let some IT organizations loosen up in terms of what employees could do with their computers.

    Now with Gears, Air, and Silverlight we have options that let us run disconnected from the net. That sounds great, but have we just re-created the security issues we had with client/server? Will it lead to a new wave of lockdowns?

  3. David was one of the reasons I felt so good about joining Adobe. As a blogger he was always commenting on my blog when he needed to either adding commentary or setting the record straight. As an employee (though I don’t work for him) he is constantly leading by example in terms of using our platform and engaging in the conversation.

    I’m really bummed that I never got the chance to work more closely with him as part of Adobe. He’s an awesome example for an executive.

  4. Hi James,

    Is it too circular to comment on a blog posting about me commenting on blog postings? -;)

    Thanks for the kind words. It has been a pleasure getting to know the Redmonk team.

    I recall well the night we first met in person in Las Vegas. Earlier in the day Cote had written a post arguing that Adobe was “forking the web”. You and me had it out on what we had not (yet) done around opening PDF. Sure kept me on my toes!

    Keep up your good work. I am leaving Adobe, but with only great feelings abouts the work there over the last years and the great people carrying it forward. No plans at this time–taking some time off after 16 years at Macromedia/Adobe–but I will keep Redmonk/Greenmonk in my RSS reader and keep up with your thoughts…


  5. David,

    You were indeed a great representative for Adobe to the development community. I remember when you came out and did the keynote at Flashbelt a few years ago when Flex 2 was first released. It’s great that someone at the VP level still took the time to speak directly to customers. Your personal touch will be missed.

    All the best,
    Danny Patterson

  6. I was at the dinner in Vegas and (as the Analyst Relations guy) I was both ashen faced and kicking James under the table!!

    However, I think this was one of the most important meetings I have ever been in between an analyst and a vendor. It was honest, open and direct – very direct at times. But it also laid the ground work for what is (I like to think) an honest, open and direct relationship between RedMonk and Adobe. We might not always see eye-to-eye, but we know we can debate and discuss and respect each others opinions.

    Thanks to all involved!


  7. […] Mendels最近在RedMonk论坛中分享了“Macromedia是何时创造了RIA术语”,以及从那开始行业内所发生的变化。 […]

  8. I think this was one of the most important meetings I have ever been in between an analyst and a vendor. It was honest, open and direct – very direct at times. But it also laid the ground work for what is (I like to think) an honest, open and direct relationship between RedMonk and Adobe. We might not always see eye-to-eye, but we know we can debate and discuss and respect each others opinions.

    Read more: http://www.redmonk.com/jgovernor/2008/05/27/on-blogging-ar-adobe-getting-it-david-mendels-and-rich-internet-apps-how-we-live-now/#ixzz1JCc2StWs

  9. […] According to David Mendels (one of the group that coined the phrase ‘rich internet application’ at Macromedia) the most basic definition of an RIA is ‘no page refresh’ (or ‘single screen’ depending on your interpretation). But he himself admits that this was the definition ‘at the time’. [Based on a comment by David at RedMonk]. […]

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