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Gatsby, Netlify, and the gravitational pull of general-purpose platforms

It’s been over a week since Netlify bought Gatsby on February 1, 2023, “to accelerate adoption of composable web architectures,” and all the buzzwords are finally falling into place. Gone is any mention of Jamstack (although you can still find its community humming along). Gone are the comments about how the two compete. Today it is all love and roses between the two companies because they have jointly understood what all business upstarts eventually realize:

As much as business decision makers may say they want the best of their breed, what buy it is a general purpose, one size fits many solution. Developers may want cool and cool, but CTOs want secure and sustainable. The company has always been like this.

the end of entropy

I’ve covered this topic of “general purpose” before and how it affects developer decisions about databases, but it goes way beyond databases. As much as individual developers may want to play around with their preferred Jamstack web framework (JavaScript, API, Markup), of which there are many (the most recent Jamstack community survey lists 29), in reality, the development community front- end has for years been merging around a few: React, NextJS, etc. That left little room for a GatsbyJS, impressive as that is.

And it will have to do more than stand out, or rather, stand firm: stand firm against the company’s need for conformity, for sustainability. To order. There’s a reason enterprise technology invariably settles on a handful of vendors in any given category. It’s not that they necessarily offer the best technology, but that they provide the best technology. experience for both enterprise developers and business decision makers.

It’s no surprise, then, that we’re seeing the highly fragmented world of web development begin to rein in entropy.

Sam Bhagwat, Gatsby’s co-founder and chief strategy officer, observes, “We’ve spent the last 10 years building all the primitives, and then the next 10 years, or however long it takes, we’ll spend combining them so that the development process , the page building process, the easiest site building process for everyone to use.”

Very rare companies can do all that “combining” themselves. Maybe if you are Microsoft or AWS. Most merge with a larger entity or fade into niche obsolescence. The irony, of course, is that by becoming the one-size-fits-all approach to development, this combined Netlify begins to look like the systems it aims to displace.

For example, Netlify co-founder and CEO Matt Biilmann has dismissed Adobe Experience Manager and Drupal as “monolithic solutions” that are “starting to feel very legacy and dated,” but the essence of their approach—combining multiple point solutions into one meta solution) seems to be where Netlify is moving towards, even if it’s doing so with a more modern architecture and approach. The reality is that big companies want two things: buy other big companies and not have to mess with a lot of point solutions. IT business decisions are as much about risk minimization and understandable choice as anything else.

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This brings us back to Gatsby and Netlify.

enough freedom

My hunch is that the executive team at Netlify saw that companies wanted to improve their web development experience, but they didn’t want to give their developers unlimited freedom. As I’ve written, there’s been a trend toward standard, pre-approved environments within the enterprise to give developers enough freedom to use the tools they love without making it a support and maintenance nightmare.

Netlify fits this trend perfectly. “Make all your tools work better by connecting them to a single, powerful development workflow,” their website proclaims. This orchestration of things like the web UI layer, build systems, and more can help a business make sense of the overwhelming choice in front-end development. Gatsby failed to displace Netlify on this orchestration layer, but with its Valhalla content hub, Gatsby arguably gives Netlify a good start in better unifying a variety of data sources through a unified GraphQL API. Left alone, Gatsby might have struggled to compete with more established players like Kong and Apollo GraphQL, but with Netlify behind, the game is on.

As Bhagwat points out, Gatsby kept hearing that companies “were looking for stable providers who could help [them] embrace this technology in a good way, with a good platform and using the right patterns etc. This is precisely what Gatsby was trying to do alone, but Netlify has more practice doing it on a larger scale. That scale and strength is exactly what companies want when looking to make long-term investments.

Also, Zack Urlocker, CEO of Gatsby and post-acquisition president at Netlify (and former exec at MySQL, Duo Security, Zendesk, and more), told me, “Early adopters are happy to choose the best provider for their framework, hosting , CMS back-end, etc. But as we reach out to larger enterprise customers, it’s more that CTOs and architects are betting on strategic architecture, not [just] tools and languages. In other words, “they are looking for an architecture that will last 10-15 years and increase their agility and speed in launching new digital initiatives.”

As much as developers proclaim their love for a particular technology, they will end up using providers like Netlify, Vercel, and yes, Adobe, because they are all safe for business consumption. Netlify (and Gatsby) understand this, so you may soon be using them within your company.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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