Mullenweg on JAMstack

So, Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic — the firm behind WordPress — has some thoughts about the whole ‘JAMstack‘ thing.

Firstly, in an email interview with Richard McManus for The New Stack:

“JAMstack is a regression for the vast majority of the people adopting it,” Mullenweg told me over email. “The usability and functionality is actually lower. Even rebuilding sites in JAMstack harkens back to the Movable Type days, where the bigger your site gets the slower it is to rebuild or update templates.”

[…]

“You can patch together a dozen services, each with its own account and billing, for hundreds of dollars a month, to get a similar result you’d have for a few dollars a month using WordPress on shared hosting,” he said. “And it would be more fragile, because the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. You are chaining together different toolsets, logins, billing, hosting… any part of it going down can break the entire flow.”

Speaking as someone who ran a blog on Movable Type back in the early 2000s, I have vivid memories of the pain I went through managing that site. Moving to WordPress was a revelation in terms of ease of use.

And quite frankly, whenever I’ve started reading up on how to set up a static site generator, and then deploy the static site to the Internet, I get a headache from all the steps involved.


Sarah Gooding over at WordPress Tavern recently asked Matt Mullenweg to expand on his critique of the JAMstack, and he gave a breakdown of its supposed strengths:

Better Performance: You can achieve the same performance by putting a great CDN like Cloudflare on top of WordPress, and your life will be infinitely easier when you want to add dynamic features like a store or comments. You can also easily find a static WordPress host like Strattic or Shifter.

This is a good point — I suspect a lot of the criticisms of slowness levelled at WordPress are less to do with its code and more to do with the quality of hosting or the presence or absence of a good CDN.

Higher security: I don’t believe that introducing a number of proprietary and sub-scale SaaS services like Netlify into your stack will make your site more secure. I believe the most secure thing you can do is run fully open-source code, as widely vetted and used as possible, on servers you control, or from the fewest number of vendors possible. WordPress securely runs some of the most attacked websites on the internet, including major media, Facebook, and WhiteHouse.gov.

The periodic discovery of vulnerabilities in the WordPress code-base, and the code for the various themes and plugins available, is a testament to the fact that the code is viewable and testable by anyone.

Cheaper, easier scaling: CDNs are more expensive than normal hosting accounts, and you can get WordPress running on a decent host for less than $5/mo. And there are even more powerful offerings: The personal plan on WP.com can serve tens of millions of visitors per day, to the website or the headless API, includes a global CDN, and a domain name for $4/mo, and we still have a profit margin. GraphCMS starts at $29/mo and only gives you “5,000 entities,” whatever that means. Contentstack is $3,500/mo. And that’s just for the headless CMS part!

I suspect that part of what attracts people to the JAMstack is that, in theory, it’s cheaper than traditional web hosting. That might well be the case for a small website, but those services need to make money somehow, so eventually your site will grow sufficiently that you’ll start getting billed for that ‘free’ stuff.

Better developer experience: If your developer wants to copy and paste updates from marketing to the website, sure, but if they want people to be able to update the website without their help, they should go with something easier for users like WordPress.

Look, I don’t mind poking around in code, especially if it gives me the opportunity to learn how things work. But given a choice between coding and writing, I have to say that I prefer writing.


I’m not ruling out ever using a JAMstack solution, but right now I don’t have anything that would make it a better fit than something like WordPress. I think that there will eventually be a middle ground between the two worlds, where a traditional CMS is used to generate and update a static site. There are already some ‘headless CMS’ solutions out there, and I expect those will grow and mature over the next few years.

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