I had an excellent discussion with my coworker Susan today about refining certain internal processes, and one of the tangents of the conversation went off on what the actual definition of a Rich Internet Application actually was. As we know, anything from a banner ad to a product configurator can be considered an RIA, and the only common element seemed to be that an RIA retains its functionality within the context of what the user is interacting with. In other words, if you click on button in an RIA, the resulting action does not significantly change the page or window the user is interacting with; Clicking to go to a new page loses context, using an animated accordion to display different content does not.
The similarities, though, end there. Implementation varies, technology varies, scope and location and functionality varies, and all in all it ends up being a pretty difficult convoluted mess to describe. At best you can group them via complexity, and after a brief exercise of that nature we realized that a new breed of networked application was emerging. Well, alright, perhaps not emerging, but instead gaining momentum and acceptance in the mainstream. Here’s the scale, see if you agree with our reasoning.