What you should know about RIAs

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Question: What are rich Internet applications? How are they going to help me market to my customer?

Answer: The idea of "rich Internet applications," which combine the interactivity and responsiveness of a conventional desktop application with the ubiquitous reach of the Internet, is to change the manner in which users interact with an organization through the Web. Today's Web sites are limited by delivering page-size chunks of information into a browser. Too often, this implies that the number of steps required to complete a task, such as booking a flight or evaluating a product, can take multiple cycles of click-wait-refresh-click.

The rich Internet application's premise is simple. Nearly everyone is familiar with movies or animated snippets delivered in the browser, typically through Flash. What if you could have your Web application integrated with marketing messages, user feedback, product engagement, search and commerce-all delivered through an experience that was much like Flash? It might include, for instance, drag and drop and other features that are taken for granted in virtually every desktop application. The technology is here, with a host of available and planned offerings from niche players (LaszloSystems), established leaders (Macromedia) and platform giants (Microsoft).

The key aspects of rich Internet applications are:

  • Desktop-like interactivity: From lists changing dynamically to real-time feedback to multiple windows, features that have been familiar to users but not generally available through the browser are now possible without requiring specialist programmers.
  • Genuine systems integration: Typically a creative piece on the Web is just that-a pretty and visually stimulating experience that may be linked to a campaign but not much more. With RIAs, there is the possibility of complete integration with your e-business information systems.
  • In your browser: While the specifics vary, the premise of RIAs is to leverage what exists within the browser today, whether it is the Macromedia Flash player or just the native capacity within the browser (DHTML/JavaScript).
  • Integrated marketing: Generally, you risk losing Web visitors every time you make them wait for a page to load. RIAs try to keep the experience and the message integrated into a single compelling interaction for the prospect and the customer.

As you think of new ways to differentiate your interactive message, give the RIA some careful consideration. It might be your vehicle to a delightful customer experience that seamlessly incorporates marketing goals into every click.

Subbu Balakrishnan is director of technology for AKQA (, a San Francisco-based interactive agency.

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