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Jan 24

Showing server problems in an Ajax application

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I signed up to Geni the new viral family tree site to play around on it for the Ajaxian post.

The viral piece really does work. I put in a few family members and when I went to my tree the next day I saw 400 entries in it! Family had added family, who were invited, signed up, and the circle continued. Suddenly I had my family tree and had not had to do much of any work :)

The Geni launch had been so successful that the site couldn’t keep up. The site was barely functional for a significant time, and even when it was up it was randomly slow.

If a Web 1.0 site is down, you know. The site doesn’t respond. No page comes up. People get that, go away, or hit Refresh continuously (often making the problem worse).

Geni has a rich Flash/Ajax interface and it wasn’t obvious to people when it was in trouble. The interface had been loaded and was fine but when you went to add someone it would wait for awhile. This made putting in content painful for family members but some thought it was an issue on their side.

The feedback is different to what they are used too. Click on a URL. No response. I get it. Cause an event in a rich UI that otherwise seems like it is working? not as easy to grok. “I can move my family tree around and zoom in, so it must be working. Why won’t it let me add a person though?”

6 Responses to “Showing server problems in an Ajax application”

  1. Anthony Eden Says:

    Neat site, Dion. I set up a tree with my immediate family and it was easy and fun, which is a good combination. Throw in the wicked-simple viral system and it looks like the site developers have a potential hit. Are you involved in any way?

  2. Dan Moore Says:

    Hi Dion,

    Interesting definition of a problem. What do you think is the answer? Since you’re probably using nonblocking asynchronous requests, it gets a wee bit complicated to know when the server isn’t responding in due time. You could set up a timer and then have it check a variable repeatedly and after a configurable timeout alert the user… Any frameworks/pointers/best practices to point to? (A quick google didn’t turn up much, just and .)

  3. noah Says:

    You have to give the user feedback. To me, this is a akin to executing time intensive tasks on the Swing drawing thread. You app may be doing just what it’s supposed to, but to the user it looks like it’s locked up because the window doesn’t get redrawn. You need some sort of progress indicator (and to not lock up the UI) so the user knows what’s going on.

  4. Tom Geer Says:

    Very tricky to monitor sometimes. We’ve gotten into the habit of parsing Apache logs on a daily basis to produce stats about URLs with slow requests, time periods when they were slow, etc.

  5. amy Says:

    Kincafe much like geni

    It was a great experience for me to have something like geni. I found it extremely useful for making a family tree.

    But i would like to add something which is much like a geni, its Kincafe.

    I would like you to particpate in beta release of Kincafe and provide feedback at



  6. replicahandbags Says:

    thanks for sharing

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