JW: You have been involved in web development for a number of years
now, but what got you started originally?
Nicholas C. Zakas: I first got interested in web development watching CNet on television. At the end of the show they gave a web site address for more information, so I hopped onto AOL to look for it. Since AOL had no web browser at the time, I was stumped as to how to get that content. I crossed paths with someone on a message board that said he could teach me how to make my own site. The instructions he sent overwhelmed me initially, as I had never heard of HTML. So I went out and bought a book on HTML (at the time it was on version 3.2) and setup my first web site in 1996 to keep in touch with friends. Even though my college had no Internet courses, I kept learning on my own, updating my site as I learned new techniques and eventually got a job working on the college’s web site.
JW: You have another Ajax book coming out (Professional Ajax, 2nd Edition). What are your thoughts on the future of Ajax and is there too much hype now?
Nicholas C. Zakas: Last year I predicted that the excitement over Ajax would minimize in 2007, eventually being swallowed up as another web development technique, and I think we’re already starting to see that. There was way too much hype over Ajax last year, everyone wanted Ajax this or Ajax that…I think Mark Twain said it best: “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” What we came to learn was that Ajax was not a golden bullet, it didn’t solve all of our problems with web development. I think we’ve now come to the point where people understand that Ajax is really about creating an enjoyable, rich experience for users. Initially the focus was on the technology (XHR specifically), but it’s now come back around to where it should be: usability.
All that being said, Ajax isn’t going away. What I think has changed is the view of Ajax’s impact on a product outside of usability gains. We’re starting to see a slowdown of people saying, “this has to have Ajax”, and I think that’s definitely a good thing. In the future, the focus will be more on the user experience and what can possibly be done to improve it; Ajax will be one tool in the engineer’s toolbox.
JW: What developers really excite/inspire you?
JW: Is it just me or have web standards suddenly become another hot topic? Are people (developers and web community) finally realizing it is important?
Nicholas C. Zakas: I think standards are coming back around as an important part of web development, and I think many people have taken important steps to make this happen. The emergence of WHAT-WG and the new HTML working group over at the W3C are examples of the increasing realization that the push for XHTML and other “next step” standards were out of touch with the reality of the market.
It is heartening to see people excited about standards and working hard to use them, but also tempering that with a realistic sense of balance with functional and user requirements. I’ve argued before that tables shouldn’t be overlooked for difficult layouts
JW: It seems that everybody is working for Yahoo! nowadays. Are they grabbing up all the best people for some sort of world takeover?
Nicholas C. Zakas: I think it’s an arms race of sorts with Yahoo!, Google, and Microsoft. All the best web developers in the world seem to be getting invites from all three, which I think points to the fact that these companies all realize that the next great frontier is the Web, and they all want to be staffed to appropriately take advantage of it. There are incredibly talented web engineers working at all three companies and I think that this bodes well for the future of the Web as a whole. Competition breeds innovation, and with three major players (plus countless other smaller companies) all in the game, I expect to see some really incredible strides within the next 5-10 years.
JW: Thank you so much for your time.
Nicholas C. Zakas: Not a problem.