Google is good for webdev

December 19, 2004

It’s now of course a truism that Gmail shook up the moribund world of webmail with its newer, slicker, webbier user experience (“Huh… whodathunk anyone would want a whole thread on one page??!?!”). What might be slightly less obvious, unless you happen to be a webdev, is the larger effect Google is having on the web development world.

I dunno about other places, but around here from approximately the beginning of 2001 to the end of 2003 — three LOOONNNGGG years — there was absolutely no money available for any interesting web stuff whatsoever. More than that, there was a whinging-pissing “been there, done that, more jaded than thou” attitude going around, where people were sort of determined that they were never again going to be enthused now that the bubble had burst. You could have done the webdev equivalent of shooting firebolts out your ass while juggling live turkeys and driving a Formula One car with your pinky-toes, and people would still have sighed and said, “But why would anyone want that?”This willful ennui was most marked towards front-end webdev, which was in crisis around that time for other reasons anyway — leading to a phenomenon we’ll call “DHTML Winter”. The nadir for me was when ScottAndrew et al’s long-awaited DHTML Bible was cancelled in press (by my own publisher!) for an alleged lack of salability. After that, is it any surprise that by 2004 there were so very few accomplished DHTML practitioners to be found? Lots of webdevs quit the business and went to law school, or basically just stopped giving a crap. It was a shame and an irony, because shortly after the darkest hours of DHTML the situation started to get radically better due to the release of one DOM-capable browser after another — but with no one interested in building anything that pushed the limits of the new browsers, webdev couldn’t develop much beyond the limits of small personal experiments.

But after Gmail hit, the whole “But why would anyone want that?” thing deflated overnight. It turns out that if you build dope shit, people often do want it. It makes competitors look old and tired. It makes your engineers happy. And it may very well provide new monetization opportunities as well.

The Goog has also been good for the careers of the few remaining survivors of DHTML Winter. Now it seems like every web property with the slightest claim to hotness has suddenly decided they need their very own DHTML bunny. Meanwhile, Google is quietly hiring — they probably have between 5 and 10 of the top front-end devs, which doesn’t sound like much until you realize there might be only a couple dozen out there with significant experience. That decreases the supply of the remaining ones, which as we all know means you’re gonna have to show them some serious love to enjoy their scarce favors.

Most importantly, Google seems to be putting some chips down on the DHTML side of the table instead of the Flash or XAML or XUL or Laszlo sides. Given how important a few technology leaders are as role models for all developers — I dunno how many arguments I’ve had where the magic words, “But Yahoo/Amazon/Google does it this way!” work their incantatory magic — this is very much a Good Thing. So I’ve got to thank Google for making it viable to spend money building newer, faster, more responsive, standards-compliant, user-centric, cross-browser interfaces. Whatever the opposite of “collateral damage” is — collateral benevolence? — Google is doing it for webdev now.

10 Responses to “Google is good for webdev”

  1. Greg Says:

    Gmail causes me to yawn more than anything else. Sure their DHTML approach was kind of interesting, but it slows it down and is problematic (backward/forward don’t work).

    Google’s latest type-in search is kind of neat, but that technology has been around for years and I think anybody with basic Javascript skills should be able to code it.

    Keep it simple. DHTML rarely works in all the most popular browsers. Who else is pimping DHTML?

  2. When I look back at 2004, I’ll remember Google and going public, and I’ll remember Oracle buying Peoplesoft, Symantec buying Veritas, and Sprint buying Nextel. Some notes: SJ Mercury News:

  3. Lloyd Dalton Says:

    True, but a lot of folks who cared about doing cool web stuff for its own sake were still working hard during that 2001-2003 period.

    Personally, I kind of liked it – it was a nice period of cooling off, where a lot of energy was focused on meeting standards and fixing broken things.

    I think a lot of the great stuff we’re starting to see is the fruit of those lean years.

  4. Yesterday I started reading Paul Graham’s Hackers and Painters. (Thank you for the suggestion, Aaron and Evan.) So far the chapter that has really resonated with me most is The Other Road Ahead, in which Paul writes, With web-based software,

  5. Mark Wubben Says:

    I started doing DHTML stuff after the bubble burst, so I’m not really up to date about this. I did met one of the greatest DHTML devs ever though: Thomas Brattli, who thoroughly enjoined the bubble… even though he found it pretty crazy. (Perhaps I’m making things sound more romantic here, but hey, I was 15 during the bubble!) Anyway, Thomas is doing other programming work now.

    I’m wondering why there is so much attention for DHTML lately. As pointed out by Greg these things have been possible for quite some time now. Perhaps it’s a shift to web applications, which it would seem was initiated by Gmail. It could also be that DHTML has been under the scope for most developers, and has suddenly popped up again. Interesting.

    To come back to Greg, and also to the gist of this post: crossbrowser DHTML work is really, really hard. There are way too much browsers out there, with way too much differences and quirks. But I suppose that’s not such a bad thing for the devs who know most of these quirks 😉

  6. Michael Kim Says:

    I found gmail refreshing compared to the other webmails you can use. Totally designed with user in mind, plus, no banners or adverts…. like they said, design with the user in mind, the rest will follow…

  7. Geodog Says:

    Oddpost. It was hands down the best web app ever.

  8. jon Says:

    Gmail causes me to yawn more than anything else. Sure their DHTML approach was kind of interesting, but it slows it down and is problematic (backward/forward don’t work).

    AKA “I couldn’t do it myself so i’m hating”.

    backward/forward *isn’t* supposed to work. just because you’re used to it doesn’t make it more efficient behaviour.


  9. Jeff Papineau Says:

    Dope shite.

    That sez it all.
    I’ve been doing webdev for a long time, and I think it’s finally having it’s day… I totally enjoyed the bubble, created a lifestyle that I could only support by sending my wife back to work when it popped, but we managed and now this dog is going to have his day.

    Talk about ‘DHTML Winter’, it was a long one baby.

    I often wonder what will come next, but maybe it’s not that important; DHTML/AJAX is good for a while. I’m AMAZED BY GMAIL, which I’ve been reverse engineering lately. It’s very nice. I think the fact that it persists it’s JSobjects across page loads is the best feature, and maybe that’s not entirely original on their part; so be it. It’s by far my favorite email client, and that sez a lot… better than Outlook and Express fer sure.

    Eventually, I think we’ll be looking at XUL as well as XML/XSLT on the client for some things, but Javascript rules for gluing it all together… the PERL of the web browser. Make that puppy sit up and do your bidding.

    It’s creative, and it’s fast. But where most JS developers go wrong is not having frameworks to work with. Look at RICO for a good example.

    Just like Java, it gets really interesting when you apply frameworks, perferably several, and creating becomes very fast. And that’s fun.

    And as the client catches on, we start drawing the division between server and client logic, more and more toward the client… where it belongs GDIt!

    Because users matter.

    Long Live Rich Clients,

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