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.