Many of the technologies and techniques covered below aren’t anything new. They’ve been around for a while, many times for years. They’re on the list though because I see them as critical enablers for a productive 2021. You may have already implemented some of these or are on the path to rolling them out. This is a great position in which to be! For organizations looking to gain a competitive advantage in the coming year though, this list is a great place to start.
Front-end technology enabling stellar growth in 2021
What are we going to continue seeing?
What do I look for in a trending item?
My daily focus is evaluating technologies and techniques which are going to enable my teams to efficiently deliver sustainable solutions. I apply this same concept to reviewing emerging technologies and evaluating trends for the upcoming year. As a developer at heart, there are many new technologies out there about which I find myself remarking, “That’s pretty neat.” Just because we find something interesting though, does not mean it will be sustainable or a solution.
As important of a consideration as sustainability is the question, “Does it actually solve a problem you have?” Developers love new technology and it’s a major selling point for attracting top talent. Organizations should be passionate about embracing new technologies but should only engage with technologies they believe will deliver a strong ROI to their product. When discussing proposed technologies with your teams, it’s important to clearly define what problem it solves. If you can’t answer that question, the technology most likely isn’t right for you, however interesting it may be.
When evaluating sustainable solutions, I find myself considering several key aspects:
- Community Support - Is there a supporting community of developers working with this technology? If it’s open source, has there been a steady trend of pull requests from the internal team and developer community over a significant period of time?
- Developer Support - Coinciding with point one, can I find developers experienced in this technology? If there isn’t a talented pool of developers working with this technology, it exposes me to single points of failure and places premiums on those developers with experience. While niche technologies are sometimes needed, I find it to be a pretty rare occasion.
- Market Share - Is this technology gaining ground and projected to stay there? Many great technologies have come and gone. They were solving big problems, but someone came along and did it better. Leveraging research from points one and two has provided me with solid insights, but it’s not always perfectly indicative. This point is certainly more subjective and my focus here is on mitigating risk.
With that being said, let’s take a look at some technologies I’m excited about leveraging in my solutions to deliver a fun and productive 2021!
Progressive Web Applications (PWAs)
For many organizations, they believe that hosting an application in app stores promotes confidence - there’s a vetting process involved with your application and consumers trust this. For other organizations it was a matter of creating a critically-performant application, for which you may have been forced into writing a native application (see Wasm for a prospective alternative) and consequently hosting it in app stores. Regardless of how your application ended up there, it’s there and it’s carrying a barrier of its own - extra steps to getting it into the hands of users. In modern times where UX reigns supreme, we’re looking for ways to make life more pleasant for our users. Forcing them to break from the experience to go and download an application may not seem like much, but it’s jarring to your experience. PWAs afford users the ability to quickly “install” your application without breaking the stride of your experience and it’s something to which more and more organizations are turning as users demand pleasant experiences and become more educated on the use of PWAs.
- Installed locally: With native support from mobile browsers and devices, a PWA can easily be installed on users’ devices following a simple prompt from the browser, right from your current website or web application.
- Offline support: One of the biggest features to come for PWAs is the ability to orchestrate offline experiences. Similar to native applications, PWAs can cache data for later and expose functionality, even while the user is offline.
- Push notifications and update support: PWAs afford the ability to bring push notifications to a user’s device just as expected from a natively-installed application. Application updates can also be easily rolled out without the app store hassles.
Instead of forcing humans to adapt to technology, we’re adapting technology to suit the behaviors of humans. Unstructured, informal conversation is how we communicate as humans, and AI chat aims to mimic this by allowing users to quickly uncover their desired information through an informal chat exchange. AI chat is always online, there’s never a queue, and it never needs to “go do some research”. Reduce customer service call volume, drive higher conversion rates, and improve customer satisfaction - it’s all possible through this simple integration. AI chat doesn’t aim to solve every problem, but it’s a powerful tool at your disposal, typically with a relatively smooth integration process.
Versioned and Flagged Features (Micro Front Ends)
Just like an npm package though, subscribing to specific versions is critical to prevent the introduction of breaking changes. Not everyone is moving at the same pace and that’s why we apply techniques such as semantic versioning to mitigate the unexpected consumption of breaking changes. We can wrap this same approach around entire component libraries or applications, but what if we want to apply this to each individual component or feature? Why would we even want to follow such an approach? Have you ever faced a production problem which required a deployment rollback to remove the breaking code? You probably pulled out more than you wanted. Depending on your deployment frequency, you may have several features in any given production deployment. The ability to isolate and individually version these features or components is game changing and I believe this is the most important trend of 2021. Not only can you isolate components and features, but you can create feature-specific deployments driven by a CI/CD pipeline.
Enabling isolated feature and component development signifies a shift to true micro front ends. You’ll find the ability to easily swap features in and out of production, simultaneously develop complex features without code conflicts, collaborate across platforms, and A/B test near-infinite combinations without the overhead otherwise associated with this. There are many solutions and frameworks out there which aim to solve for this both at build time and runtime but the two I’m most excited about are Bit and webpack’s Module Federation. I still feel wary about Bit because they’ve been pushing their advertising campaign incredibly hard. I find it nearly impossible to go a day without reading an article that does not have some connection to the organization. That said, Bit provides the workings for something incredible! The functionality of Bit can be liken to an individual, semantically-versioned npm package for every component or feature you build.
Shipped with webpack 5, Module Federation provides “native” support for runtime importation of features and components. Module Federation provides similar functionality to many existing frameworks, but for me it’s important to note that I now have that power within webpack - the bundler that most of your projects already use.
While Bit does boast about its ability to integrate well into existing code bases, these isolated micro front ends may not be for everyone. For small applications, the ROI probably isn’t there. Sometimes a simple semantically-versioned component library is also sufficient. I’m still very excited about these solutions and the development opportunities they deliver to larger organizations!
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Experts
Ask any developer about SEO and they’ll bang off something about semantic HTML or the use of metadata, but rarely are developers focused on the niche of SEO - they’re more worried about building out pixel-perfect features or providing cross-browser support. Padding your team with an SEO expert can be worth its weight in gold. If nothing else, performing a third-party SEO audit can provide a great list of action items to capture high-ROI initiatives.
Framework Agnostic Development
As I mentioned, I’m not yet aligned with entirely foregoing a front-end framework in the development process. I believe the benefits of simplified development still outweigh any negative considerations, but if you’re looking to go it alone then writing pure web components might be your answer as browser support is growing. For me though, I’m looking at solutions like Direflow which allows me to stand up a React-based component library which in turn is compiled into easily-consumable web components.
Regardless of where you’re at in the maturity model, web components should be a consideration. The development community has proven that componentized development makes sense, and governing bodies have agreed. Pairing this approach with micro front ends can bring you even closer to the goal of framework-agnostic development.