Challenges for web developers

Paul Kinlan
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I originally wrote this to articulate the challenges of the wider developer ecosystem that my team (Chrome and Web Developer Relations) needs to address so that we can help the industry thrive, so that we can help more people build on the web, and to help developers build experiences that more people love to use.

After sharing the Web and Chrome DevRel manifesto I wanted to keep up the pace of sharing my thoughts on some of the challenges that we want to help developers solve.

I didn’t actually ship this article, but now that I’ve had some time and it’s the new year I thought it would be a good time to actually share this.

Understanding the challenges that developers face every day helps me work out how we can change the way we work to help as many developers as possible.

I would love your feedback. Am I wrong? Do you see any broader ecosystem issues that I have missed?

I will be making deeper articles out of many of these issues.

Web Development is easy to start, but hard to make progress and master

  • Variable API support and vendor priorities make consistent experiences hard or impossible to build.
  • Legacy considerations, e.g., old CMS, existing implementations mean that there is a huge momentum that needs to be overcome.
  • Platform quirks and compat problems cause a huge amount of frustration and needless amounts of extra testing.
  • There are a large number of abstractions being created that take developers away from an understanding of the platform.
  • Lack of platform-level primitives for app-like interactions: views, models, controllers, recyclers, hero transitions, view transitions.
  • Web Developers have to be good at everything: Offline, Accessibility, Localisation, Performance, Security…

Developers are getting excited about PWA, but they can be hard to build and hard to do well

  • Lack of main browser support for PWAs makes it hard to justify building one
  • End to end it’s too hard to build a progressive web app. HTTPS, Service Workers are all hard to get started with.
  • The value of PWA is not clearly articulated especially across OS’s (Safari, Desktop etc) and this is a simple reason about why to not adopt it.
  • It’s nearly impossible to build an “exemplary PWA” and no one really cares that they should.
  • Developers frequently have to start again and don’t migrate their existing experiences.
  • Developers and Businesses don’t know why they should build a progressive web app.
  • Findability of existing web apps is a massive problem.
  • “Progressive” is not valued. Hard to offer a consistent experience/features missing from different web browsers/operating systems
  • The progressive web apps that are being built are not responsive and thus increase maintenance costs since you have to look after a separate desktop site

It is too hard to build a well-functioning experience (UI/UX)

  • The good-enough bar for developers is way too low. What is good? Why is it important? How do you get there?
  • It is easy to be a bad actor when building components, A11Y, layout and performance are hard to build and not prioritized by developers
  • Developers don’t see the value in web components and platform tools to help them build quickly
  • Many framework authors don’t believe that web components should be used and this may or may not be correct - it’s just not clear to developers
  • Developers want a UI framework like Bootstrap to take away the UI pains and lets them focus on the product
  • The primitives for many experiences are too hard to build and build well: menus, nav, transitions, takeovers, data-binding, views, controllers
  • It is hard to build performant experiences - Primitives are an issue (the platform doesn’t have what developers need, or they are there but no one knows or cares)
  • Uneven support for API’s like animations make it impossible for developers to adopt new platform primitives - primitves are normally fundamental and nearly impossible to polyfil

It’s too hard to build a fast site

  • Web Developers are building slow experiences that have terrible UX and are not accessible. They want to do better but they don’t know how
  • Developers and businesses don’t prioritize performance because there is no new clear guidance about the impact it can have on their business
  • Developers don’t understand why a site is slow
  • It is too hard to build a fast loading site - there are many footguns and many browsers
  • Developers don’t know what the goals that they need to aim for are
  • Developers don’t have the guidance they need to reach the goals set to them (PRPL pattern, route-based chunking, streaming are fringe concerns at the moment and don’t have concrete docs etc)
  • Developer tooling and frameworks are not fast by default and developers don’t know or care - bundling is a huge issue - DX > UX
  • Developers don’t test on the hardware that their users run on and thus it feels “good enough”
  • Developers don’t have all the information about their user base and the impact that their decisions have on them
  • Developers prioritize load performance more than they prioritize “in page” performance
  • It is too hard to get your site UI to operate smoothly across all devices
  • Public perf shaming is increasing and is putting developers-off from caring
  • Developers feel like we are beating them over the head all the time and thus turn-off

It is too hard to build a secure site

  • Migration to HTTPs is a blocker for adoption of many new pieces of tech
  • Developers and businesses don’t see the need in making their sites secure (i.e., why do I need this for a news site?)
  • It is hard to set up HTTPS
  • It can still be expensive for developers to set up an HTTPS site - not everyone can use LetsEncrypt. Large and small sites are having to pay a lot more for the priviledge
  • Developers don’t understand the value of “secure technologies” such as CSP and they are seeing low adoption

Businesses and Developers don’t know why they should “Web”

  • Converting a user on mobile web is difficult, so making money is hard
  • Business cases and needs vary by region, vertical, and audience so are hard to apply in a meaningful way without putting a lot more investment in
  • Apparent lack of capabilities means that it feels like you should not use the web
  • Web is just moving to an app model so why not just do the ‘app’
  • Lack of cross-browser support for key API’s makes it hard for businesses to justify their investments
  • It’s not clear the value of the web when there are so many competing platforms

The web is lumpy and causes developers a lot of pain

  • Browsers are frequently changing either via additions or tactical removals of the web platform and they don’t know what is happening, how to stay up to date or how to change. This causes developers pain
  • Chrome is constantly breaking the platform with their “interventions”
  • Browser update cycles create uncertainty and “shifting sands”
  • The platform players are not all aligned. Safari, UC, Edge and have different priorities
  • Developers have to make everything work everywhere (from iOS to UC Browser) and they have the tools, guidance or data to back up their decisions

The web is a vibrant ecosystem, but noisy

  • There is a huge amount of opinion being generated each day and also best practice being defined that is neither accurate nor exhaustive and developers are looking to Google and others to present a unified guide
  • There are a huge number of tools, libraries and frameworks being built and developers don’t know what to choose
  • Google has a large number of frameworks and developers aren’t sure what to use
  • We create a lot of content and it is not presented uniformly
  • Lots of competing tools and developers don’t know which they should use
  • Lots of competing frameworks and developers don’t know which they should use
  • Lots of competing advice and developers don’t know which they should follow or trust

The web is global

  • Developers are not just English speaking. Many developers are coming from countries we have never targeted: China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan etc; and we need to help them
  • Many western developers are seeing the crop of ‘Lite’ experiences as ‘emerging market only’ and that they are not high-fidelity

Updates

Edit 1 (23-Jan-2018): Adding a note at the top of the page.

Edit 2 (28-Jan-2018): Cleaning up some bits.

Paul Kinlan

Trying to make the web and developers better.

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