AJAX bad for publishers, good for users?

I realized it the second I started playing with AJAX sites like DIGG, GMAIL and Flickr: this stuff is gonna kill advertising revenue. Rafat just pointed out the lost revenue issue in a post that I was waiting to write up for the past couple of months (don’t you love that about blogging?). His post is based on a story over at TechWeb by Fredric Paul.

Anyway, for those of your who don’t AJAX is a term to describe DHTML and Javascript techniques where when a users clicks on a link on the page an action occurs without the page refreshing.

The first big consumer examples of this were GMAIL, Flickr and DIGG. In GMAIL you might open an email or expand a list of emails and never reload the entire page. This is great for GMAIL users because they don’t have to wait for the page to refresh like Yahoo or Hotmail users do. In other words, it makes the web respond and feel like desktop software (think Outlook).

At Flickr you can add someone as a friend without reloading the page. Since Flickr doesn’t have advertising this has no effect on revenue so making the user experience faster is worth it.

Over at DIGG you can vote for story and not have the page reload. In fact, you can scan down the page and “digg” (or vote) for ten stories. This makes people use the site more, but it means the site lost 10 pageviewsor 10x the number of page views. Now, there is an argument that people would not use the site as much if it need to refresh, and that is true, but it is also true that we’ve spent 10 years selling advertisers the “page view.” We’re not going to be able to sell them on any new metric any time soon.

My advice to publishers: go easy on the AJAX. We’ve looked at ten different ideas for AJAZ in Blogsmith (our blog software) and we’ve decided to keep all the AJAX on the blogger (i.e. publisher) side of the business and “force” the users to deal with page reloads so we can make (or not lose) money. Truth be told there are only four places I could really see AJAX helping the user experience on the front end:

a) expanding the comments listing without reloading the page
b) posting a comment without reloading the page
c) changing categories without reloading the page (Jason Kottke did this on his site)
d) expanding the “post continued” link that most bloggers have (my pal Lock has the kids at Gawker Media using this all the time to goose page views i.e. “more photos of Lindsey Lohen after the jump!” at least I noticed this skyrocketed after he joined the team :-).

None of those things provide that much extra value for users, and thus the reason people have not added them yet (at least not that I know ofI’m sure someone has).

The truth for any blog with comments is that the comment page refreshes are 10-20% of a site’s traffic (maybe more on community sites like Slashdot). Given how close to the bone running a blog business is you really can’t afford to lose anything, let alone double digits. Page views are what it’s all about I’m afraid.

Then again, blogs give much more content (i.e. 10 to 20 posts per page view) then sites like CNET or the NYTIMES which breakup each story into 2-5 pages. I’m convinced that blogs have done well because they don’t torture users like CNET does with their two paragraphs per page view game. Perhaps AJAX will be like thatgive a little more to the user and they like your site a lot more.

In my mind if you’re running a webservice like DIGG, Flickr, or email AJAX is great, if you’re a publisher it’s too soon to start giving away 10-20% of your revenueright?