Web Design

Enhancing Web Page Interaction

Last updated Mar 1, 2004.

By Molly Holzschlag

Interactivity is one of the compelling features of the Web. It's why it took off publicly in a heartbeat, and why it remains a source of fascination for those who build it as well as those who use it every day.

The best way to understand interactivity is to first think of passive versus active events. A mostly passive event is watching TV—the most action going on is the search for the remote! Otherwise, you find a show and watch it, switch around and watch other stuff, or turn the machine off completely. A more active event is playing basketball. You have to get off of the couch, find the basketball, go outside to the driveway or park or local schoolyard, and actively work that ball.

Interactivity can be thought of as being when a passive or active event is modified by an outside active event. Then, the modification must in turn affect you in some way. So, if while you're watching TV, the TV show host suddenly asks you to begin making selections from a menu onscreen, and you do so—which in turn results in your paying and receiving a product—that's interactive. If, while you're playing basketball, the ball begins giving you mechanized directions on how to shoot, you shoot, and then the ball provides you with feedback on how well you carry out the directions—that's interactive, too.

On the Web, any time you make a selection that returns you some feedback, you've got interactivity. The Web is fundamentally interactive because of hyperlinking—if you're tuned to one channel on TV, you can't link from that channel directly to another one. On the Web, hyperlinking allows us to interact at a very basic level: Reach a Web page, click a link, get another Web page. Event, action, reaction.

Interactivity on the Web comprises a wide range of events and responses far beyond the standard link. Some of the familiar interactive aspects of the Web include:

As Web designers and developers interested in interactivity, it's important to note that there are numerous ways to gain interactive content, both on the client side within the browser, or on the server side using a variety of technologies. In this guide, I'll describe each type of technology and follow it with a list of types of interactivity that the technology is mostly used to achieve. And, as with all the guides, you'll get a list of very helpful InformIT articles, chapter samples, books, and Web sites related to using these technologies to create rich, interactive Web sites.