Over the last few months there has been a surge of prominent web people – designers, developers, thinkers – questioning the current obsession with complex “web app” style frameworks. Perhaps this was prompted by Jeffrey Zeldman’s ‘The Cult of the Complex’ article from June 2018, or perhaps this is a natural reaction from people who deeply understand the web.
Which brings me on to horses. But first, web apps.
What is a ‘web app’? Wikipedia helpfully has a definition – of sorts. But there’s a certain amount of bet-hedging:
The general distinction between a dynamic web page of any kind and a “web application” is unclear.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_application
Which chimes with my experience when I ask peers for a definition. They all but cry “You just need to feel the difference, man!”
So, horses. Back when the early automobile engineers were putting together the first cars, there was a clear distinction between the mode of transport widely used before – the horse – and what they were building. There was no confusion, no perplexed on-lookers asking “is that a horse, or an automobile?” There was a world of difference between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’.
A world of difference, but still much the same. The problem that horses and automobiles were solving was, essentially, the same: getting people from point A to point B. But the mechanism – the technology – used to achieve that goal was entirely different.
Except it has, or so the framework-fanboys would have you believe. I’ve heard developers talk about the more traditional ways of building websites to be akin to riding a horse, while using a Single Page Application framework is like driving a sports car.
I have bad news. A sports car works great in the circumstances for which it was designed. But take it out of its natural environment – take it off the track and onto a mountain pass, for example, and you’re in trouble. For harsh terrain you’ll need a horse, not a sports car.
You see, a horse might not be as quick on a flat race track. It might not have a heads-up 3D display to show you the turns ahead. It probably isn’t equipped with intelligent side impact protection systems. But you know what it does have? The ability to do the job in less-than-ideal conditions.