Basic AJAX Question:
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Some of the Google examples you cite don’t use XML at all. Do I have to use XML and/or XSLT in an Ajax application?

Answer:

No. XML is the most fully-developed means of getting data in and out of an Ajax client, but there’s no reason you couldn’t accomplish the same effects using a technology like JavaScript Object Notation or any similar means of structuring data for interchange.

Mashup is a popular term for creating a completely new web application by combining the content from disparate Web Services and other online API's. A good example of a mashup is housingmaps.com which graphically combines housing want-ads from craiglist.org and maps from maps.google.com.

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Should I use XML or text, JavaScript, or HTML as a return type?Techniques for asynchronous server communication have been around for years. What makes Ajax a “new” approach?