Making the JAMStack more turn key
April 27, 2020
Peter Hironaka - Front End Developer@peterhironaka
I've been thinking alot recently about the immediate limitations of the JAMstack and the latest web technology, and why more people aren't looking to make the switch yet. From what I've gathered, this can be attributed to two main factors:
- Convenience - in my opinion, this is the greatest attribute of companies like Squarespace, Shopify, Wordpress, Webflow etc. They make it incredibly simple for people to create a website. There's hundreds of different pre built themes to choose from. The admin ux is intuitive. And although hosting can make it pretty costly, the customer support is usually pretty solid.
- Word of mouth - I've found through several friends in the marketing and creative industries that a lot of how they make their CMS/e-commerce stack choice is through word of mouth. If designer x has been with service A for a decent amount of time and swears by it, there's a good chance you're going to go along with that advice. The amount of research involved in making a more informed decision can be overwhelming. Besides, if there's enough positive public sentiment to support that claim, it only affirms their original decision.
To be honest, I can't really argue with that. People live busy lives. Crunching numbers and researching which platform will give them the best performance and bang for their buck probably isn't a high priority for most. They have a product or an idea, and their desire is to go to market as soon as possible. While that mentality is understandable, here is the drawback of going that route - ** your content/idea/inventory is now locked into that service**. Unless you're looking for a long term commitment (at least 5 years), there's a high probability you will make the switch to a different service after a few years. Maybe less time. And from there you're likely to recycle the same steps over and over. That may work for some people, but I believe there is a more cost & time efficient way to go about it.
The concept of JAMstack has only been around for a few years now, so it's still in the early phases of being introduced to the masses. If you have any questions as to what the JAMstack is, I suggest taking a look here.
Because it is still a fairly new concept, there aren't enough bootstrapped themes or theme providers. By and large it's still a pretty bespoke setup. That said, one of the great things about JAMstack is you can still incorporate a CMS to manage your content. Shopify, Wordpress, Contentful and more are available to configure with a JAMstack site. It's what's commonly referred to as a headless CMS - in other words, the CMS is strictly there to manage content. There are no WP servers generating pages.
I bookmarked a tweet from a Gatsby staff dev a while ago and just recently revisited it, as I believe the tweet itself and surrounding discussion really hit the mark on the current pain points of selling Gatsby to the masses:
A framework doesn’t make your site fast. You do that.— Chris Coyier (@chriscoyier) October 7, 2018
Jason is right when he points out that monetizing Gatsby themes is an untapped market. But on the other hand, there needs to be a mechanism in place to make the unboarding for non devs as easy as possible. A Themeforest like model is a viable way to achieve this, however even if you purchase a theme, you still need a developer to set up and create the site.
A good example of a JAMstack starter kit I've found was for the Service Relief Project. It lists out all the different accounts and services you will need in order to bootstrap a fundraiser site for a state. While the steps required are more involved than spinning up a Wordpress site, anyone can do it. There's no coding experience required in setting it up. If I were to guestimate, I'd say that would take the average user approximately 30mins-1hr to get a site up and running.
While I don't necessarily believ JAMstack is the right choice for everyone, it is the correct approach for the majority of websites. If your site can be static, let it be static. If you can serve your site over a CDN, do it. These are easy wins. You can save so much money and gain so much in the way of performance, SEO, and UX. ** More websites will turn to static in the future.**
Just this past week, Gatsby.js released a monumental feature that could pave the way for a new era in web development - incremental builds. Say you had a gatsby site with a wordpress backend. Everytime you make a change to the content from within the CMS and push those updates via a webhook, the entire site would need to rebuild. If your site had 100s or 1000s of pages, that could take several minutes to fully rebuild. It was a trade off you had to make if you wanted the performance benefits. With the invention of incremental builds, there's a paradigm shift. Sites that would have been labeled as static could now be considered dynamic.