Well the Jamstack Conference fireside chat happened. And it happened. There was no kicking or screaming but there is certainly a significant dichotomy in the main talking point. Monolithic vs decoupled. Matt Biilmann vs Matt Mullenweg. Netlify vs Automattic. Matt Mullenweg thinks this is a false place to start the conversation, “I think the monolith thing is a false dichotomy, so a lot of what modern Jamstack sites do often push the monolith in the client side which I think is worse than the server side rendering … essentially making it dynamic.” Matt M. goes on to comparing the WordPress ecosystem to the iOS ecosystem regarding security and upgradeability. While I think that’s a good direction, we must remember that the iOS ecosystem is far from open source.
In many way the conversation between Matt B. and Matt M. are talking about two different things in the same conversation. Matt B. talks much more directly about a certain kind of developer who wants a lot more control of the entire stack. Matt M. talks much more about the ecosystem and marketplace.
I don’t think that the tit-for-tat about number of sites utilization benchmarks was helpful. It diminished the internet effect that WordPress is rightfully having and looks a lot like bullying a new set of technologies for no good reason. From a code perspective there are actually ways that Jamstack and WordPress can work together to build and deploy modern websites.
The open source fight is not a fair discussion. All Jamstack code is as open source as WordPress. Now this is where I continue to get riled up. WordPress is not Automattic just as Jamstack is not Netlify but this discussion kept getting framed as WordPress vs Netlify. That’s not fair to developers, users, and community members. This isn’t productive, isn’t fair, and isn’t about open source. If corporations wish to discuss their individual merits, that’s absolutely ok, but the great WordPress.com/.org conflation again is muddying the conversation. Mullenweg throughout the discussion talks open source as in .org but performance and security as .com. WordPress Open Source is deployed on all types of hosts. Hosts which have good and bad performance and security. What’s the meat of this discussion then?
It still comes to Biilmann saying that WordPress is not where you want to be hedging your bets. I think it’s way too early in Jamstack’s life cycle to be making claims like that. Cui Bono? If the platform is valuable, developers will develop around it. If the WordPress experience is valuable, developers will develop around it. While Mullenweg keeps talking about intellectual honesty, I think he’s not comparing apple to apples himself. I could easily roll up a site on .com and a third part host and have dramatically different results.
Here’s the crux. Hardcore developers will gladly taking up challenges that are interesting, compelling, and not necessarily market valuable. The WordPress ecosystem is huge, the money invested in huge, this is not going away any time soon. Hosts matter for both of these platforms.
Trying to write this in as real time as possible. There will be follows up touching on security, open source, and risk. Phew!
(October 6, 2020) Last minute news courtesy WP Tavern, Virtual Jamstack Conf to Feature Fireside Chat with Matt Mullenweg and Matt Biilmann: “Live conversations tend to be more cordial than shots fired across the blogosphere. It will be interesting to see if Biilimann cares to join Stackbit CEO Ohad Eder-Pressman in his wager that Jamstack will become the predominant architecture for the web by 2025.”
(September 20, 2020) Not going to bury the lede, Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, should not have taken the bait. I’m talking about the now growing “fight” with Netlify and the Jamstack community. In chronological order of events with quotes and links and final thoughts.
July 13, Why Netlify Is Tech Agnostic and Its Role in JAMstack Development, Richard MacManus:
I asked Matt Biilmann whether Automattic, the company behind the dominant web CMS, WordPress, should be worried… or will it adapt?
“Basically all the traditional monolithic CMS’s have really started seeing that this decoupling [of frontend from backend] is a reality and it’s desirable for the developers,” he replied. “And people who work today directly with WordPress as their whole stack, there’s a lot of dissatisfaction of feeling that you will fall completely behind in what you can actually do on the frontend.”
I think this is way over the top and unsubstantiated, I get why Mullenweg felt a response was necessary.
Short but Sweet
August 31, WordPress Co-Founder Matt Mullenweg Is Not a Fan of JAMstack, Matt says, “JAMstack is a regression for the vast majority of the people adopting it”
There’s a lot behind this so make sure you are reviewing the linked posts but I also don’t think Matt is completely fair. Jamstack is being adopted by people who are quite aware of its pros and cons.
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September 15, Matt Biilmann unloads, On Mullenweg and the Jamstack – Regression or Future?:
There’s often a moment right around the time when an old technology is about to be displaced by the next thing, where the main leader in the field goes out and makes a strong argument that absolutely nothing is happening. A moment that ends up looking like a turning point where the new was undeniably present enough to be worth being in denial about.
This is crap and not productive. It’s not Godwin’s Law but Biilmann’s personal attack doesn’t make his argument, platform, or community look any better.
An Expected Pun
People are trying to paint me as being against Jamstack, but that is as foreign to me as being against duct tape — it’s good for some things, bad for others, and it’s not going away. I just wish they would be more intellectually rigorous and honest when marketing it. I expect a Jamstack-like approach to exist forever, just like the ideas behind Jamstack pre-date it getting jammed down our throats by Netlify’s marketing team.
It probably would’ve been best from the start for Mullenweg to lead with, “it’s good for some things, bad for others, and it’s not going away,” from the start and leave it at that.
So over the course of three weeks, we get some cheap shots at a market leader and a defense that probably didn’t need to happen. For most people this whole discussion is going to be meaningless, and rightfully so. I’ve presented at a number of WordCamps and other events for a while that the CMS should be Invisible. It’s been in the context that just being a WordPress agency doesn’t give you a competitive advantage, and that customers want solutions which address their needs.
Is WordPress the best most scalable solution out there for everything? Of course not. Is this architectural discussion worth the WordPress community getting into a fight with the Jamstack community? Of course not. I remember the same arguments that occurred with Joomla’s object-oriented programming (OOP) / MVC framework vs WordPress’s functional / procedural architecture. That stuff didn’t matter then and doesn’t matter today.
Inpsyde CIO, Robert Windisch (DE), drops in with his quick thought, “WordPress targets in its philosophy to ‘Design for the Majority’ Jamstack will never be for majority of users.” I take that not a critique from Robert but just laying out the landscape and leading us to the value question.
What does matter is value. WordPress has acquired its preeminent position because content is easy to deploy (from hosting, to theming, to actual words). Remember it wasn’t always easy, could your parents spin up a WordPress site in 2005 without know at least something about PHP, MySQL, maybe even Apache? Mullenweg is absolutely correct that overly complex architectures (whether OOP or hyper centralized SaaS services) are impediments to adoption, I think he’s missing the forest for the trees in his arguments. WordPress has had almost 20 years to optimize tools, systems, APIs, and infrastructure. He’s also diminishing how important API services are for WordPress already. Automattic’s Jetpack, Google Analytics, Ecwid, and so many more SaaS based plugins are critical to the ecosystem. In fact, I see a future where Gutenberg is functioning separately from core WordPress, as a much more standalone service, and will start resembling Jamstack more, just as Jamstack will have to have an ecosystem that solves its own problems.
The biggest argument for me in this discussion is that WordPress is deeply and fully open source, that’s a critical decision point. I don’t see how this public back and forth has helped either community. Tools are tools, it’s the value that counts.