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Book Review: Building the Realtime User Experience

The Web is moving ever faster towards sites that give users what they want, not when they load or refresh pages, but rather in real time. Understanding how this works and how to leverage it on your own site so that it is useful to the user is important knowledge any developer should have. In his book, Building the Realtime User Experience, Ted Roden does just that.

Building the Realtime User Experience breaks down the technologies that make the most sense for a developer to deliver to the user in realtime such as syndication and instant messaging, for instance. One thing the book does that I appreciate is it presents the examples found throughout using different languages, applying the most practical language for a give scenario or toolkit. Doing this does not make understanding the examples very difficult, however, and any developer with reasonable coding skills should be able to follow along in any language without difficulty.

The first chapter gives an introduction into what “realtime” means in terms of the Web and development and lays out the languages the examples will use. From Chapter 2 on, the book jumps right into the different technologies that present well in a realtime format starting with syndication. Roden focuses on two technologies for syndication, Simple Update Protocol (SUP) and PubSubHubbub, giving each protocol pretty much equal treatment, leaving it for the reader to decide which protocol to implement. Chapter 3 discusses how to implement widgets that will display realtime on a web page, using Twitter and FriendFeed as examples. What was of more use was the discussion in Chapter 4 on server-side “push” technologies, and the transition into Chapter 5, which introduces the reader to Tornado – an excellent chapter that shows through example how to get Tornado running and in use on a site.

The next three chapters deal with chat, instant messaging, and SMS respectively. In each chapter, Roden gives examples on how to build an application around these technologies, which a web environment can then utilize. The chat application built throughout Chapter 6 is quite robust, as is the instant messaging client/server created in Chapter 7. Chapter 8 then extends the instant messaging service by integrating SMS into it.

I found Chapter 9 to be an interesting chapter, but it differs from the rest of the book in that it focuses on what a developer can do with analytics to view a site from an administrative point of view in realtime, instead of focusing on delivering something realtime to the end user. The examples yielded some interesting concepts and left me considering all of the possibilities for back-end development that I more often than not neglect or even disregard in my own development. Of all the chapters in the book, I think this one is the one I am most thankful Roden took the time to write. Roden finishes the book with a “Putting It All Together” chapter that takes the different applications built throughout the preceding chapters and mashes them together into a realtime game that could be pretty fun with a group of friends.

Overall, Building the Realtime User Experience is a terrific introduction into the realtime Web, and shows the reader just some of the technologies that may work well on a site. The examples are thorough and yield robust applications that are tweakable and integrate into existing sites. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in developing applications or widgets for their site that work in a realtime manner.

***** (5 stars)

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