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How RIAs Can Increase Your Website's ROI

Jun 30, 2008
When properly conceived, architected, and executed - RIAs can engage your users, build your brand, and drive your technology ROI.

RIAs, or Rich Internet Applications, are applications which move traditional desktop functionality onto the web. A great example of this is Gmail, the Google email client which is entirely web-based. Instead of accessing a desktop client such as Outlook, you log into a web site and get a similar experience.
At the heart of an RIA is the user experience (UX). The traditional web paradigm was to present static pages of text with a series of links or buttons. Users would click on things and wait for a new page to load while their transaction was taking place somewhere behind a web server.

This paradigm still holds for web navigation, but for interaction with a single web application, page-loads are a no-go. Technologies like Ajax, Adobe Flex, and Microsoft Silverlight can build the user interface in the browser, handle user interactions, and allow for communication with the server without reloading the page.

Ideally, users will experience near instantaneous interaction (like with most desktop software). In fact research has shown that web users are growing less patient, and expect a greater perception of performance with the web sites they use.
If you are doing business on the web, it is in your best interest to evaluate how RIA technology can help you keep your competitive edge. Your customers will be expecting it.

With RIA technology properly applied your business can:
-Create a more engaging experience for your customers - building a larger and more active customer base
-Add stickiness to your site - keeping customers from going to your competition
-Build your brand - adding bankable value to your most important asset
-Use and re-use web services - getting a higher return on your technology investment
-Add new features to your web site - turning your site into larger profit center

This is not to say that you should try to build your own version of Gmail. A prudent way to begin is to look at the way your users interact (or want to interact) with your web site. Find ways to add that perception of instantaneous action. You can iteratively add functionality to your web site while keeping a sharp eye on usability.

Let's say, for example, that you have an ecommerce web site where people can check their orders. They navigate to an orders page where they are shown a list of order numbers and dates that are hyperlinked to an order details page. What if clicking on that link dropped open a box underneath that order that contained the detail info? The user doesn't have to navigate away, and can check each order from that one page. This is one small example of the interactivity and user experience that RIA technology can provide.
About the Author
John Moore is a Web 2.0 expert who creates Rich Internet Applications. He has created the web's first RIA community at http://www.riaspot.com
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