Ajax: A powerful new tool for trade union activists on the web

Ajax was a mythical Greek hero who faught against Troy. Ajax is also a powder you’d use to clean dishes and sinks. And today it is the name of a group of technologies which together create an utterly different experience for users of the world wide web.

I could tell you what Ajax stands for (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) but — there we go, we’ve lost all those who hate technical jargon.
In plain English, Ajax is a way to bring desktop-type applications to the web. And that’s probably not clear enough either. You really have to experience it to see what I mean.
I’ll give you a concrete example of how this new technology is already being used by trade unionists.
Visit Backpack, located at http://www.backpackit.com. I use Backpack together with others to maintain common web pages including to-do lists, notes, and more complex documents. It’s a powerful tool for collaborative authoring, whether of a website or a conventional document. And the basic version is absolutely free of charge.
Another really well-known showcase for what Ajax can do is Google Earth. I’d tell you the web address for that (http://earth.google.com/) but if I did, you’d probably wind up wasting a lot of time as you play with this addictive — and free — online tool.
This is all light years ahead of what unions are doing these days on the web. The very best union websites are still barely interactive — the interactivity consisting mainly of being able to send in a form (like joining) and maybe submitting a comment to an online blog or discussion forum. Ajax promises a much higher level of interactivity, and a richer experience for users.
In another five years, all our sites will work a bit like the way Backpack works now, using Ajax or something like it.