Rich Internet Application is the fancy name for a desktop app that leverages internet connectivity outside the browser. RIAs, as they're called, are supposed to be ushering in a post-browser future, according to some people.
Why, then, has one of the most high profile RIA providers in recent years, Joost, moved to ditch their desktop video player?
Adobe's Ryan Stewart, one of the leading advocates of RIAs, posts a list of steps other RIA providers should consider taking in order to avoid the same fate. Are RIAs not shaping up to be everything they promised? We still like some of them quite a bit, but we think Joost is making the right decision to move into the browser. In fact, we think that iTunes Video would be well served to do the same thing. Here's why.
RIAs are Good for Background Use
We like using desktop Twitter clients like Tweetdeck or Twhirl or other RIAs like Fluid and Snackr. Those are all apps that work well in the background of our workflows. We spend most of our focused time in the browser. Apps that require extended focus, like video viewing, may as well go on in the browser. That way they don't require separate downloads, potentially suspect software, etc.
One advantage to an RIA is that it can sit on your computer and wait until you're in between doing other things. If your browser crashes, while you load page after page from different sources, that RIA is still there keeping up in the background - waiting until you're ready for it.
RIAs Are Best When You Need Responsiveness
Rich Internet Apps combine the responsiveness of a desktop app with the connectivity of the web. If you don't need a lot of responsiveness, though, then you may as well just stay in the browser. Despite its social features, video viewing apps like Joost are mostly consumed passively. You find something you like and then you sit there and stare at it for awhile. Responsiveness to quickly entered commands? Pretty much irrelevant.
RIAs Are Good When Storage and Offline Access Are Important
Desktop RSS readers are nice because you've got a local copy of your feeds. You can see changes to the text and you can read in a plane. It's useful to view videos when offline, but how many of them do you want to keep on your computer after you've watched them? Better to let them stream in through that part of your computer's memory and then be gone.
Amazon may have hit the sweet spot in its move yesterday to ditch Amazon Unbox and rename the service Amazon Video on Demand. Users (now including Mac owners, by the way!) can either stream video or download it locally - it's up to you.
Maybe Video Works Best in the Browser - So How About iTunes?
That's all well and good, but watching video in the browser is so convenient it's hard to beat. As Adobe's Stewart points out, even watching full screen is now trivial with the upgrades to Flash and Silverlight that weren't available when Joost first hit the scene.
Hulu is rocking out and it's no surprise. It's attractive, easy to use and has a whole lot of content. It could be better, but there's absolutely no reason to believe that a desktop client would help make it any better.
We like Rich Internet Apps sitting on our desktop, pulling and pushing data to and from the internet. We don't feel compelled to consume video that way, though. We expect to see other desktop video apps follow Joost's footsteps and move back into the browser. Might iTunes move toward an ad supported model and move to the browser some day for video? It would probably be a good idea for all the same reasons that it's smart for Joost to do so.