Okay, so I’m a bit behind the times. =)
The website I’ve been working on has a dynamically generated page that’s data-intensive and can take several seconds to load. I’ve been AJAX-ifying it so that the client browser immediately loads a skeleton page and then retrieves pieces of data as they become available on the server. Nothing extraordinary.
What I like so far:
Needless to say, AJAX is very conducive to a clean separation between data and presentation. For me, this is a major advantage. Designing XML schemas forces one to think about what data should be provided, not how it looks. The server-side code stays clean, since it mostly just churns out data for delivery.
What I dislike so far:
Only two things really bug me so far. One is that exposing the data layer via HTTP calls can result in clients accessing that layer in ways you might not appreciate. This is a pretty common complaint about AJAX, but there are clever ways to deal with it.
The second is a more conceptual matter. The HTML document isn’t really a “document” anymore. This has been happening since before AJAX, so maybe I’m just being grumpy, but really, what your browser is getting is not a document, it’s an application!
Maybe there should be a new HTTP “Content-type” for AJAX applications. The identification would help with search engines and information accessibility, letting clients know that hey, this isn’t data you’re seeing, it’s an app. Surely, people more thoughtful than me have considered these issues already. I’ll have to look it up. Unless, that is, you can only access that material through a non-googleable AJAX interface. =)
In general, an AJAX architecture requires more human work to maintain: AJAX and non-AJAX versions of information with different presentation instances; more thoughtful design to keep the layers separate and maintainable, and to manage complexity; more testing for cross-browser, cross-platform compatibility. These are not “problems” per se, but definitely things to consider when embarking upon a site overhaul.