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The web sure moves fast and, since this was written in 2017, a lot of this information may be outdated. Consider this when reading.

Progressive Web Apps are the future

A “standardista” in denial finally buys in

Dan Cederholm, Eric Meyer, Zeldman, Ethan Marcotte, Meagan Fisher — these forward-thinking designers and developers helped me skip the process of learning table-based layouts.

Their books, articles, and conferences allowed me to leapfrog a generation and dive directly into “standards compliant” development (you know you loved those little badges, dammit). They showed off the benefits of avoiding Flash, maintaining one CSS file, and the beginnings of responsive design. They advocated for accessibility and a good user experience all while keeping an eye on performance. Semantics and proper markup were drool-worthy.

It was a golden-age for the web.

Or was it simply my golden age?

The biggest resource in my early days of learning the web — my compass — was A List Apart. Curated, long form articles keeping me up to date and aligned with best practices. Today Aaron Gustafson posted an article with this headline:

Yes, That Web Project Should Be a PWA

The feeling I had in my stomach reminded me of someone.

During weddings there are two events going on: the bride’s and the planner’s. The bride’s party (what you’ve seen if you’ve ever attended a wedding) is comprised of what you’d imagine: family, friends, music, food and booze galore.

The planner’s party is happening simultaneously, but is made up solely of people on the clock. Caterers, bartenders, DJs, bands – and the photographers.

I got to see this matrimonial underbelly when my friend and I started a wedding videography business after high school. This being a small town, it doesn’t take much to see the same crew at different weddings.

Every once in a while we’d run into a photographer who still shot on 32mm film. His work was great, but I can still remember his attitude toward our “fancy digital cameras.” It was visceral and tinged with obvious fear for his own career and livelihood. He was hanging onto a vestige and avoiding even considering the newer alternative and its benefits. Digital was “too easy” and beginners were ruining the industry and stealing his gigs.

I’m not sure what happened to him. Wedding videography turned out not to be my thing.

Over a decade and a career in web development later, I find myself relating to him a little too much as I peer into the murky deep that is frontend development “these days.”

Did that photographer cringe at the acronym “CCD” as much as I have been cringing at “SPA?”

Did he get nervous about his future upon seeing his younger competition upload their images in seconds as he sent off his film to get developed? Much the way I watch devs fire up a console and type, “create-react-app” to have a working app in seconds?

Emerging markets are making the internet an even bigger place. South-Central Asia and Western-Africa are coming online by the hundreds of thousands and they’re using modern browsers to do so (thanks to most of these devices being Android-powered).

These users, as well as millions in the U.S., do not have the stable and blazing fast connections that most web developers are used to, but Progressive Web Apps and an offline-first development mentality can lead to a great experience even on a slow, iffy network.

When the web browser was invented at CERN, it was meant to be a viewer of documents. Those documents would hyperlink to each other, thus creating a “web” through these relations.

This has been my disconnect.

The browser is no longer a viewer of documents…it’s more a virtual machine, ready to run the app sitting at a URL. The line between web and native is blurring.

Now, a website is simply an app you don’t have to keep on your phone.

So what now? How to avoid the path of the film-only photographer?

Here are the gaps in my knowledge that I intend to fill and things I intend to keep in mind from now on:

  • ES6 (modern JS tooling and builds)
  • accepting that transpiling and local build tools are here to stay
  • React (I’m no zealot, you learn any modern two-way binding lib)
  • offline-first methodologies
  • Progressive Web Apps and all they entail
  • servers no longer serve webpages, they serve data
  • This is the future of the web and it’s a beautiful thing.

Embracing change can be extremely difficult when you’ve dedicated years to learning the tricks of your trade, but with a little humility and some self-awareness, you can avoid being the old crank pining for the good ol’ days.