Oct 04, 2019 newsletter

Static sites are fracturing monoliths in the name of a better developer experience, but fast growth is risky

Gatsby, a static site generator for web development, recently raised a $15M Series A to continue development of its open source web framework. Launched in 2015, Gatsby now powers some 1% of the top 10,000 websites in the world.

Gatsby sits at the forefront of a powerful shift toward developer-first tooling. Gatsby replaces monolithic and cumbersome CMS systems, such as WordPress and Drupal, with simple static pages and APIs, helping developers eliminate and minimize infrastructure maintenance.

To fracture monolithic architecture, Gatsby turned to what developers love most.

Gatsby adopted a universal language—JavaScript, with its hundreds of thousands of modules—and integrated fast-growing technologies—GraphQL and React. Moreover, Gatsby eliminated servers—a tedious responsibility—and avoided PHP—a language slowly falling out of favor. The result is a developer-friendly architecture with fast time to value.

Can Gatsby continue its meteoric rise?

Like other open source technologies that improve developer experience, Gatsby’s fast-growing ecosystem may swallow them faster than they are able to monetize effectively.

Docker offers a cautionary tale. Docker, the open source backbone of modern containerization, is struggling to find a viable business model. AWS, Azure, and GCP help developers rapidly spin up and deploy Docker containers, generating no revenue for Docker.

Gatsby faces a similar battle. Netlify, an automated website deployment platform, quickly dominated the workflow space, swallowing and extending the positive developer experience that is core to Gatsby’s value proposition. While Gatsby popularized a new developer-friendly web architecture, other platforms may stand to gain the most.


GitHub tentatively enters the code search battlefield

As any developer will tell you, searching for solutions to coding questions on most search engines can be a challenge. With the announcement of its CodeSearchNet challenge, heavyweight GitHub finally starts working to fix the world of code search.

Mapping search queries to relevant code is a notoriously difficult challenge. Machines must learn semantic code search—retrieving relevant code given a natural language query. Code search today often fails due to the large disparity between search words and actual programming terminology.

Many developers turn to Stack Overflow, who is also working to solve the search problem. Dubbed CROKAGE, Stack Overflow’s experimental tool parses human-generated answers and code snippets to compose better answers.

Who will have superior solutions for developers? GitHub, with more code, or Stack Overflow, with more answers?

GitHub has a massive and incomparable data advantage—nearly 100 million repositories, in fact. Such an asset makes GitHub the 800-pound gorilla that is likely to dominate code search.

Even so, GitHub publicly released its data set, which includes natural language descriptions paired with related code snippets scraped only from open source projects. GitHub is not using its vast troves of private code data and plans to rely on its community of developers and researchers.

Holding such a vital place in the development supply chain, GitHub sees value in deferring to its developer community to advance code search algorithms with transparency. While GitHub may be the obvious winner of the code search race, maintaining developer trust will be critical to everything GitHub does in its pursuit of empowering developers.


Google releases new no-code integrations for Firebase to streamline app creation, but keeps platform closed

With the release of Firebase Extensions, Google is hoping to improve developer productivity with modular services for app developers using Firebase on the Google Cloud Platform. Google, however, missed a key element: developer virality.

Firebase Extensions are powerful pre-packaged solutions that plug into Firebase, Google's comprehensive app development platform. Extensions can complete simple workflows, such as automatically resizing images, translating text, and triggering emails.

Most of the extensions’ functionality is not new, but they offer an easy way to bundle and implement these services directly into apps with minimal coding. According to Google, dropping Extensions into your app on Firebase means “no need to research, write, or debug your own code.”

The only Firebase Extensions that developers can install today are official extensions created by Google—no marketplace to discover or share creations by other developers.

Google is likely wary of privacy and stability issues that arise from community involvement, but in an age of package registries, language modules, and tool extensions, can it afford to restrict its developer tools?

Firebase Extensions are still in beta and are hosted as open source code on GitHub, so Google may open up the platform to developers in the future who hope to create their own extensions.

Firebase is already highly regarded by app developers for its easy setup and its portfolio of rich microservices, like Cloud Firestore and Cloud Messaging, that developers can easily integrate. Firebase Extensions are another step toward a more developer-friendly cloud that could help seriously differentiate Google if it eventually opens the platform to community extensions.


Small bytes

  • Microsoft releases a new curriculum to help developers learn the Python language for free [ZDNET]
  • TensorFlow 2.0 is released with tighter Keras integration. As a more accessible frontend to TensorFlow, Keras has helped solidify TensorFlow as the dominant machine learning library [TENSORFLOW]
  • AWS launches AWS IQ to connect developers with AWS experts, because AWS is difficult to navigate [AWS]
  • Docker is struggling to raise money as big cloud providers swallowed its open source tech [CNBC]
  • Microsoft is now the dominant player in the world of Java, replacing the long-reigning king, IBM [THE SERVER SIDE]
  • Stupid baboons, stubborn elephants: a product engineer’s guide to working with platform engineers [RINA ARTSTAIN]

Tools

  • Rudder is an open source Segment alternative [GITHUB]
  • Streamlit lets you create apps for your machine learning projects with simple Python scripts [STREAMLIT]
  • Sqira is a platform to help people build their IoT ideas without minus the hassle with server and codes [SQIRA]
  • Zenaton helps developers code flow controls in their app [ZENATON]
  • Pilgrim SDK is an always on, passive location detection engine by Foursquare open to all developers [FOURSQUARE]
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