Yesterday I wrote about the end of HTML5Rocks and I felt like it might be nice to put some extra perspective of what I've learnt over the years running content sites, specifically sites that can run without having to generate revenue. Also, take caution, these are my memories of 10 years of work and we had a pretty large team working on it including Paul Irish, Paul Lewis and Eric Bidelman as well as many external contributors.
H5R as we used to call it internally was certainly of it's time. HTML5 came out a couple of years before and the Chrome team was working on with WebKit on a heap of new technologies that we thought developers should know more about and start to be able to use. We wanted a place where we could inspire people about the possibilities and it was a space where we could just write. It was clear it was a Google and Chrome project, but because of the domain name and the lack of corporate branding, we could get away with a lot less reviews of content.
There were a lot of things that came out of this project. The HTML5 Slide Deck we used at IO (creating HTML slides is great until you have to actually do it..e), there was a playground and demo studio, Web App Field guide (which is still alive :D)
At some point, we found it too hard and too cumbersome to publish on the site (both from a technical perspective and a content review one) it was a mix of dynamic and static site and it was getting harder to add new features and content, so we created another site 'update.html5rocks.com' that was a lot more free-form and like a blog....
One thing I remember and something that I've done a number of times (to my shame) is "it's too hard to update this thing and get the team to change, let's create a new thing" (hence U.HR5) and this I think is one of the reasons why H5R kind of went away, because we then moved focuses again.
In about 2015 (I think) we had another lease of life, we redesigned the site to be responsive, and I set up processes to have a content calendar, however on reflection we should have seen the end coming for it then.
Why did H5R wither away? I've thought about this a fair amount and I can group them around the following:
- Branding - It wasn't about HTML5 (which really was a confluence of technologies), the industry kinda stopped talking about HTML5 as 'the thing'
- Our focuses - In 2016 (or maybe earlier) there was a big movement to help try and get the web to work well on mobile, and I'd felt at the time that we could tell a better story on developers.google.com/web - so we moved a lot of content there.
- Lack of focus - On reflection, there wasn't really a content plan, it was just a place to put content that we thought people would like. It made it hard for me to say we should keep pushing in this space
- Incentive - We weren't building a business with this site which meant our incentives were different in how we think about publishing and what we want from the site. Our commitment to maintain this site always went in spurts.
- Community - We had a very very active comment section on each of the sites, and we ended up either spending a lot of time moderating on articles, or none at all. At some point I can't quite remember (probably because of hurt feelings on my side) we turned off comments and we cut off the reason why people would come back to the site.
All of these points above compounded each other and accelerated the lack of attention. Ultimately, this turn down of the site has been years in the making, but I could never get anyone on the team prioritise it because we were always busy (and I was always kind of scared to ask), but two things happened:
- Rachel Andrew joined the team and basically said "we need to get a handle on all this content and have a clear plan and ownership" - Yes!
- I was left as the only person who could deploy the site, and while not uncommon in DevRel to be a sole-maintainer, it's an anti-pattern that I want to ensure we fix.
And now we are here. I loved the site and what we did with it. I loved that I got to meet and work with so many people on it. I learnt a lot about scale, content, developer awareness and marketing, feedback, engagement and how I really think static sites are more of a pain than they are worth. I learnt a lot about the OSS community and I am forever thankful for the connections I made and new friends gained who would localize the content to learn English and Web Development and who are now amazing engineers at companies across the world. I took it all for granted at the time, but with time, I recognise I owe a lot to a lot of people.
Thank you to everyone again who contributed, I'm incredibly proud of what we all achieved. The web still rocks and I'll take all these learnings for the next time!
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.