2016: Chrome and Web Developer Relations year in review

I like to take some time to think over what has happened in the previous year and what I would like to see happen in the coming years. I've talked about a lot of this internally, and I think is time that I start to talk about this publicly too. We are a developer relations teams, that, well, has to relate to with web developers and this is a good place to keep that going and also for developers to understand how we work and how we've set priorities.

TL;DR — there were a lot of great things happening, but we need to relate with developers more and fight their fight even more.

I think it is no secret that the web has taken a back seat in many companies' minds and as a consequence we get into this downwards spiral. In 2015 I met many companies and developers across the globe and there was a common set of themes why people weren't building for the web.

  • The web is slow is still a mantra.
  • The web is not reliable is still a common belief.
  • The web can't do X is oft-cited.
  • All Google ever does is talk about building for Android.
  • There are millions of new users coming online for the first time each day and they are not using the web directly.
  • The web is too complex and I can't build for it and there are too many choices for tooling and little opinionated guidance.

There are many more high-level challenges that I will try to articulate in other posts but one of the core things that struck me is that a lot of the core issues are around the experience that the user has with their device and how hard it is for developers to then build that user experience on the web, particularly for mobile. Businesses are chasing users and still moving away from the web and in to other platforms because they can offer better experiences (that's the theory anyway).

I believe that we as an industry and society need people and services to keep consuming experiences on the web because the web is the most open and accessible platform that the world has ever seen. The value of the entire system is worth more to the world by many orders of magnitude than cost it takes to create it and build it and for people to get content on it. People build businesses, lives, support families through the web and push humanity forward with the infrastructure of the Internet and the reach of the Web (I am getting close to being all star-trekensian here) and I want to see that continue.

I believe that Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are one model (a great model) for helping developers build great experiences for users on the web, for the web and for our team 2016 was about mostly about trying to raise the profile of this through the Progressive Web App model and to show that the web can offer these experiences and that if you follow even some of this model your users will benefit.

The web still has a number of threats and PWA is not the only model and I don't think we are anywhere near complete, but I'm incredibly proud of our team and what we managed to achieve in the year (here is just a quick glance):

  • The Web was back big at IO. 2015's Google IO was a low point, the team felt it, developers felt it and it was the reason why we wanted to 2nd Chrome Dev Summit in 2016 (this ultimately turned into the Progressive Web App Dev Summit).
  • The Progressive Web App Dev Summit in Amsterdam!
  • The team launched and kept developing the sw-* libraries and the planning for v2 (I am genuinely excited)
  • The team created and run "Progressive Web App Roadshows" that we ran in a huge number of countries, working with over 20,000 developers.
  • Supported the launch and development of Lighthouse
  • We launched a comprehensive set of resources for accessibility.
  • We've been massively more present in what are traditionally known as "Emerging markets".
  • We ran the Chrome Dev Summit in SF and connected with a lot of developers and increased the contact between our engineering teams and real web developers.
  • We relaunched /web and we've doubled our traffic in the year and now opened up un-blocked support for Chinese developers. I look at https://developers.google.com/web/ as our team's home, where we set out our vision and help as best we can provide solid and opinionated guidance that help developers do the best they can. We've still got a lot to do, but I'm  incredibly proud of what we've managed to do in this space.
  • We've massively expanded our GDE's support and started to regularly engage with some of most active developers.
  • We've nearly hit 100,000 subscribers on YT and we've nearly hit 300,000 followers on twitter. These are nice vanity metrics, but I don't think important in the grand scheme of things.

High-fiving and back-slapping aside I want to quickly look forward to 2017 and what we as a team can improve (there is a lot we still need to do).

Developer Relations is all about supporting developers, helping them, supplying best practice guidance and reasoned opinion based off experience building real-world sites and apps and showing off developers successes.

We should be a strong point of contact for developers and the engineering team advocating for them internally so that we can help shape the products that the companies build to support there needs.

2016 was a good year for some of the outreach we've done, but as we keep ramping up from a low in 2015 we need to as a team to double down on the advocacy part of our team. Being where developers are, agnostic to their platforms and frameworks of choice (or foist) and helping them build great users experiences is key. The advocacy in some of our job titles needs to be pervasive across the team be it in the docs that we write, the tools we create or the presentations we give and we need to be a lot more representative of the industry.

I really want to get into the Future of the web in an upcoming set of posts but some of my thinking for 2017 and the long term health of the web needs users and that means as an industry we all need to:

  • Keep content (textual and media) being created online.
  • Keep "functionality", "entertainment" and "utility" online and kept outside of silos
  • Ensure content, "functionality", "entertainment" and "utility" is available on mobile or any device they choose to use to access it
  • Ensure content, "functionality", "entertainment" and "utility" are universally accessible to everyone everywhere
  • Push instant loading experiences (or as near as dammit) - first loading and subsequent loads.
  • In-page experiences be snappy and responsive
  • Ensure the web to be robust in the face of adverse devices and conditions
  • Make payments, authentication, identity management seamless on the web
  • Keep pushing and helping make the web secure end to end for users and developers

This is the year that Flash is all but gone on the web (it will still be around, but the hurdles for users will be high), and we need to make sure we keep content and experiences on the web! Video, Games and Restaurant sites with snazzy interfaces. We have the best platform for people to create these experiences and we have the broadest reach. Let's show them why and how to web.

I want the web to win, I want developers to be successful and I want every person on the planet to benefit from universal access to the web of content, information, entertainment and function.

These are just some of the goals that as an industry I would love us to share and is what I am going to work towards. Onward to 2017!

About Me: Paul Kinlan

I lead the Chrome Developer Relations team at Google.

We want people to have the best experience possible on the web without having to install a native app or produce content in a walled garden.

Our team tries to make it easier for developers to build on the web by supporting every Chrome release, creating great content to support developers on web.dev, contributing to MDN, helping to improve browser compatibility, and some of the best developer tools like Lighthouse, Workbox, Squoosh to name just a few.