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RSS, AJAX Broaden Web's Utility

“RSS brings the next step of automating the Web search—and brings it to you 24/7.”

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Imagine information on the Web finding you, rather than you searching for it. And picture less time-consuming experiences while browsing any Web site’s pages.

Two Internet technologies make this possible. One is “Really Simple Syndication,” or RSS. This eXtensible Markup Language (XML) format is designed for creators of content to easily provide content for subscription. The other is Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, or AJAX, an interactive Web-development technique.

“We’ve looked at Web sites or used search engines to find information,” says Jim Cahill, marketing communications manager for Emerson Process Management’s (www.emersonprocess.com) process systems and solutions division, in Austin, Texas. “But RSS shifts that. You subscribe to it and the information comes to you.” He suggests seeing Emerson’s RSS Starter Kit (www.easydeltav.com/rsskit), which describes RSS, its value and operation.

How could an engineer looking for information to optimize a process, for example, make use of use RSS? “Maybe he starts with a Google (www.google.com) search. What shows up could be my blog, Emerson Process Experts (www.emersonprocessexperts.com),” says Cahill, who moderates this blog (short for Weblog, a form of online journal) that launched on Feb. 28. “If the person was familiar with RSS and liked what he read, he could subscribe to the blog. And anything that I posted would come to him.” RSS feeds can be anonymous and deleted at any time, he adds. Web users, though, haven’t grasped the value of RSS, Cahill believes. “RSS brings the next step of automating the Web search—and brings it to you 24/7.”

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The ability to tailor RSS feeds can be valuable to someone on the factory floor, adds Deborah Franke, e-marketing manager in Cahill’s group at Emerson. “Say I’m in pharmaceuticals and interested in getting information on process technologies. I can develop a search and it can notify me anytime something new is posted that meets my selection criteria.”

While browsing Web pages, though, your experience can be enriched by AJAX. It combines Web applications’ ease of maintenance with desktop applications’ responsiveness and ease of use, says Jesse James Garrett, a founder of San Francisco-based Adaptive Path (www.adaptivepath.com), and its director of user experience strategy. “Anybody who migrated their application to a Web model and was disappointed in the results—or anybody who looked at the Web model and decided against it—ought to take a second look at the level of richness that we can now deliver through the browser with AJAX,” he advises.

Its key feature? If you have an application that you want to distribute on the Web or an intranet, AJAX can make that application more responsive than can traditional Web technologies, explains Will Irwin, Emerson Process Management’s Delta V technology group manager. “With a lot of previous technologies, if a user is looking at a Web page and clicks on the page, that means the whole page has to be republished from the server. That could take a long time,” he says, adding that AJAX keeps entire pages from being reloaded.

AJAX will change industrial automation, Irwin says. The technology takes traditional thick-client information—produced by computers connected to computers and having hard drives, diskette drives and software—and puts it into a thin-client format associated with computers lacking diskette drives and other features. This makes for easier deployment. “AJAX allows you to get applications running on any desktop PC (personal computer) without having an IT (information technology) person come and install the software on your computer,” Irwin adds.

AJAX’s ability to dynamically change interactive elements opens up broader ranges of interfaces, such as drag-and-drop, adds James. “AJAX is the next step forward in the multi-dimensionality of the Web experience.”

C. Kenna Amos, ckamosjr@earthlink.net, is an Automation World Contributing Editor.

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