The Future of Web Development

“If it can be web-based, it should be web-based.”

The frills of hosting an application on an app store may create stickiness by occupying mobile real estate, but it’s still just another choke-point in the user experience if the proposition isn’t strong enough. The rapid adoption of ChatGPT may have been enabled in part by its shareability – although something this significant may have transcended the friction of an app download.

The cross-platform compatibility and ease of discoverability of web apps pose the question of the fate of websites and web development in the future. 

Web Traffic Consolidation

Remember these? Other than YouTube, of course.

To try and understand web development’s future, we must look into the past. The Wild West of the late-90s/early-2000s internet gave birth to many things, notably including:

  • Napster. Sean Parker’s Napster was a pioneering file-sharing service that allowed users to share and download music files over the internet. Napster was sued for copyright infringement, setting legal precedents for nascent web platforms. Despite this, Napster left a significant mark in internet culture and the music industry.
  • LimeWire. LimeWire worked by connecting users directly to one another to share files. After several years of legal battles, LimeWire was shut down by court order in 2010 due to copyright infringement, mostly due to illegal music.
  • YouTube. The early days of YouTube consisted of tons of spam, inappropriate (or worse) content, a plethora of copyright infringement, no effective business model, and tons of memes.

Users were still trying to figure things out. There was no GDPR. Phishing wasn’t a fully fleshed-out crime. Remote-Assisted Trackers and keyloggers would plague innocent looking downloadable wallpaper JPEGs.

Facebook, Google, Amazon, and even companies like Yahoo and eBay, were rushing through cyberspace, systematically gobbling up properties like indiscriminate black holes accumulating mass.

Insert Bezos laugh here.

Once they cracked the code to game user attention and actions, it was all over. 

  • Google: despite having no first-mover advantage, Google’s PageRank algorithm destroyed Yahoo’s, who was also too busy making dumb acquisitions.
  • Facebook: Facebook’s network effect from seeding college campuses made the website the “it” place to be. 
  • Amazon: “amazon.bomb” was never meant to be. Earth’s most customer-centric company was the perfect storm in internet juggernauts:
    • reinvest in the business and focus on cash flow,
    • obsess over customers, not competitors, and
    • capture the leviathan tidal wave of exponential growth of the internet.

These now enormous tech companies mirror the monopolistic Rockefeller’s Standard Oil – with the anti-trust lawsuits to boot.

Google has become the de facto gateway of the internet, Amazon AWS powers most of it, and Meta has more users than China’s and India’s populations combined. The rolling snowball has also meant any scrappy startup was swimming in an ocean with lurking krakens that would happily swallow them up, either through acquisition or execution (the firing squad kind, not the performing really well kind!)

The recent tech layoffs notwithstanding, this industry consolidation represents a shift in paradigm not only in how websites are visited, but also how they’re developed.

The ReactJS framework, for instance, was birthed out of necessity in 2011 by Jordan Walke of Facebook. The company needed a way to efficiently handle the complexity of their UI and improve performance. Subsequently, Facebook engineers began to develop React as an independent library. They refined the API and added new features like server-side rendering and virtual DOM.

It became an open-source library in 2013, and it was launched into stardom due to:

  • The network effect of the reach of Facebook,
  • the refinement and continued support for the framework from Facebook, and
  • meeting demand from the developer community with a robust product.

It’s not to say that any project from a tech giant is bound for success (*cough* Google+). Rather, it’s perhaps a representation of a “corporate renaissance” era where the money was flowing and the talent was glowing. 

Through the zero-sum nature of a developer taking a job at Google, that’s one less developer to work at a smaller company or startup. The Google ecosystem takes on another denizen, potentially taking one step closer to becoming a declining blue suit bureaucracy it once had contempt for.

Artificial Intelligence

Too real.

Consider this a buzzword disclaimer. The AI winter seems to be thawing out for now, and more people are bandwagoning than ever before.

Examining the spectrum of web development posits the question of exactly how much “replacing” AI will be able to do at scale in the short- and medium-term. Developers with server-side expertise are more in demand than ever. The frontend is a complex web of frameworks, technologies and tools. There is also a lot of cross-over between web dev and software dev. 

In my view, AI will serve as a trusty tool for web developers in the short- and medium- term. It will also put a lot more pressure on the bottom of the pyramid. AI can take the brunt of a lot of menial web dev work, both with and without code, including:

  • Testing & Debugging: this may include the AI finding its own bugs! 
  • Insights & Analytics: the data determines what product is actually built (the best website is no website at all). The more ubiquitous data analytics are due to AI, the more accurate websites can be.
  • Natural language processing: this may open the floodgates to tons of new features that will become standard for websites everywhere. We may see everyday websites with image and video recognition built into their native web apps run by non-technical people!
  • Automation of repetitive tasks: think of this as Emmet but for more code. 

Speaking of Code: The No Code Movement

Not sure how true this is. Maybe check out Artstation?

The self-explanatory phrase “no code” refers to a movement in web development where non-technical users can create web applications without writing any code. 

This will really shake the lava lamp. The same way the internet gave birth to tech workers, USPS gave birth to Amazon, and NASA gave birth to SpaceX, no code may spawn a new era of web development, as it strips all the ambiguity away once and for all for most forms of web applications.

Dev teams will free up more time to focus on higher level problems (although, perhaps the headcount may be smaller…). More people will have the freedom and confidence to experiment. The hubris of constantly worrying about design at the expense of actual product building may either be toned back or amplified.

The pollination of good ideas out into the world will no longer be limited to only those who can speak in programming languages.

Actually good software engineers and web developers will still be in demand. 

Apart from having a strong technical toolbox that’s constantly expanding and adapting, the world will constantly need bonafide software developers for:

  • Critical thinking: code is only a piece of software engineering. Actual problem solving, reasoning, and critical skills are what’s needed to build products and fix problems.
  • Bigger scope: the advent of AI and “no code” will free up more developer time – it will also give them a larger scope of responsibility over more areas. 
  • Communications: this opinion’s a bit of a stretch, but perhaps the increased power wielded by developers may mean that they are better able to communicate with one another – while breaking down the silos of middle management.

Closing Thoughts

Consider the continuous generation of development work that arises from shifting legal requirements in places like the fintech industry and growing security concerns across various network security jobs. 

Marketing efforts that involve creating 3D animations on web pages and conducting super-optimized A/B testing add to the workload. 

Migrating older companies to newer technology, such as transitioning to micro-services or service-oriented architectures from monolithic structures, further complicates the development process. Consequently, there is an immense amount of work to be done, and the need for skilled professionals who can identify problems, organize work into tasks or stories, and delegate work effectively remains significant. This essential aspect of web development is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Tech stacks will continue to shake things up, Python libraries will continue to make us feel infantile by bench pressing 6 months of grunt work in a line entered in the CLI, and Android and iOS still rely heavily upon the web to maintain ad revenue and attention.

The future still looks bright for web development. Follow me on Twitter: @maximumivy