AJAX and 2.0 madness

Does every new generation need the 2.0 tag?

Comment Web 2.0 has a lot to answer for. Why, incidentally, is it not simply Web 2?

In any case, I have no quarrel with Web 2.0: what I do have a quarrel with is all the other 2dotohs that keep springing up. There is SaaS (software as a service) 2.0 for example and, most recently, Business Objects has been talking about BI 2.0.

This looks altogether too much like a trend, so here is my first (early) prediction for 2007: we will see more and more 2dotohs dreamed up by fancy marketing executives. I guess we should be lucky that data warehouse appliances vendors haven't described themselves as data warehousing 2.0.

And it won't end there: some smart Alec will figure out that if 2dotoh is good then 3dotoh will be great. Moreover, we'll probably start to have products that incorporate 2dotoh. So, instead of product x release y+1 we'll have product x release y 2.0. Oh yuck - pass me the sick bag!

However, all of this is not to say there aren't genuinely new generations of things coming to pass. For example, business intelligence really is in the process of re-inventing itself, though it has a lot to do yet. One of those things, as it happens, relates to AJAX (asynchronous JavaScript and XML), which derives from the Web 2.0 world.

Now, AJAX supports what are known as rich internet applications. Put simply, what these allow you to do is to interact dynamically with a web-based application at a field level, rather than having to refresh web pages all the time. A lot of web-based applications require you to fill in a form and the application can't respond to you until the form is completed; what rich internet applications allow the software to do is to respond to you on a field by field basis, thereby supporting a much richer customer experience. However, this isn't what's important about AJAX for BI.

Most BI tools do not provide interactive graphics. For example, suppose you have a dashboard that shows a variety of inter-related data using, say, a spreadsheet, a scatter plot and a histogram. Now, what you might want to do is to look at a subset of the data in more detail and a good way to do this might be to draw a box on the scatterplot that surrounded the items you were interested in and then select this subset to investigate. In this scenario you want all of the presentation options in use to change automatically as you make that selection. Well, you can't do that using conventional browser technology, but you will be able to do it using AJAX.

Like most technologies this represents both an opportunity and a threat. It is an opportunity for potential users and it is an opportunity for the majority of BI players who can't do this yet. On the other hand it is a threat to those few companies that have already developed ways to do this, notably Advizor Solutions, Spotfire, and Visual Sciences, as they will lose one of the major differentiators that they have when compared to the likes of Business Objects and Cognos. Of course, they will argue they have some very clever graphics and are further down this road than the big boys. Both of these facts are true, but that does not mean that these vendors will not come under increasing pressure as BI 2.0 develops.

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