Marketers, Meet AJAX

These days it’s rare any new, widely accepted Web technology has a huge effect on the way we marketers do business. Sure, new stuff comes along all the time, little experiments that make us go “Gee whiz!” But as Web technology has matured, the lag time between major new innovations that can fundamentally change online ad models has increased greatly.

Flash has been around for nearly a decade now, and there have been incremental improvements in online multimedia (such as audio and video). For the most part, though, the technologies used to deliver online content into browsers haven’t changed all that much.

Mostly, that’s good. The learning curve has been pretty steep, and the industry is still figuring out the standards necessary to reduce reporting discrepancies between advertisers and ad servers. Heck, it was only back in November that the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) announced a joint set of standards for defining an impression.

Experiments abound in new forms of advertising (e.g., podcasts, RSS advertising, and advergaming). But mostly those who want to deliver ads through the browser have a pretty common set of standards to work with.

Enter AJAX.

Short for “asynchronous JavaScript and XML,” AJAX is basically the engine that drives such sites as Google Maps and Google Suggest, sites that load content behind the scenes as a user interacts with the page. This eliminates the click-and-wait aspect of Web surfing so many of us have become used to.

Basically, AJAX works by loading a chunk of JavaScript code (the AJAX engine) into an invisible frame when the user first encounters the page. As the user interacts with the page, the AJAX engine works in the background, asynchronously communicating with the server and loading content automatically. Although this sounds highly technical (the geeks among you may want to check out this detailed technical explanation), the result is a seamless Web browsing experience created using current Web standards. No funky plug-ins or extras required.

If you’ve used Google Maps, you know what I’m talking about. As you move around the map, zoom in, and interact, there’s virtually no waiting. It seems like one giant page you can scroll around forever. In effect, it is. Because content is preloaded, there’s no waiting and (hold on to your hats, media folk) no real page views to talk about.

That’s right, no page views. The whole site can, in effect, be one huge “page.” It never needs to be reloaded or refreshed. If the success of such sites as Google Maps and Flickr are any indication, consumers like the model and will probably get used to the idea of moving around instead of “turning pages.”

Of course, media measurement companies are pooh-poohing the idea this will have much of an effect on their measurement. And it’s true measurement technologies and serving software will catch up — in time. For now, we may be seeing a new technology with a huge effect on the ad model basics we currently subscribe to.

And it’s going to get more difficult. Microsoft has announced plans to include AJAX support in its Visual Studio products, making it a heck of a lot easier for average developers to include automatically updating content into future sites.

If you don’t know AJAX now, you will.

Even if AJAX development does undermine the basic ways we expect the Web to work, it’s a good thing in the long run. As technologies such as AJAX, streaming video, online gaming, and iTV and place-shifting tech such as Orb and Slingbox take hold, advertisers will face a whole host of challenges. They’ll also have a huge range of opportunities to break out of the old metaphors and develop ad forms that truly take advantage of the medium in new, innovative ways. Get to know AJAX now and prepare yourself for the day the fresh-faced new intern asks, “What’s a page?”

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