By Matthew Tyson
Software Architect, InfoWorld |
Steve Sewell is the CEO and co-founder of Builder, a next-generation visual design and collaboration tool for web content creators and developers. Builder includes a WYSIWYG designer for the marketing folks, and it has a great deal to offer the developers too. Basically, Builder is a system that allows for fully customized components to be laid out in the UI, then connected with APIs and data stores, all without losing the ability to still modify the underlying components. At the same time it streamlines engineering and business stakeholder interactions in the development process.
Matthew Tyson: Glad to have a chance to talk!
Builder is a drag-and-drop designer but also much more. You must spend a lot of time pushing back against people’s impulse to pigeonhole it as a WYSIWYG editor?
Steve Sewell: A new product category requires a lot of educating of the market, right? People see “drag-and-drop from my tech stack” and they can be loaded with confusion right there.
Like, how do they integrate? They think we must be a site builder. But we’re not.
We just build up pieces connected to you. It is API-driven because our whole goal is to make sure that you can have a good end-to-end workflow. Marketing on your team can jump in, make a new page, configure an A/B test and run it and then see the conversion metrics without going through code deploys and stuff like that.
And people wonder, how do you do that? That sounds like witchcraft. Then we have to explain all this stuff.
Tyson: What are some of the misconceptions you encounter?
Sewell: We need to dispel a lot of myths people immediately have in their heads. People generally think, “Oh, drag and drop. I’ve worked with a tool like that before… five, 10 years ago, and it’s going to be poor performing. It’s going to be buggy. It’s going to be limited.”
And we say, no, actually, this is an extremely unique approach to something that might seem familiar, but it’s wildly different. It has good performance and it has such amazing flexibility and compatibility with your entire code stack.
We’re a friend of choice. We’re backing up choice. All your services, your custom code and logic, they all plug in nicely.
What do you attribute that to?
Sewell: This is a great question. Why so many front-end frameworks? I think a lot of this stems from the digitization of the world, right? Everyone needs to go digital. Everybody needs to sell, transact, communicate, convert online.
My prior experience was leading the web engineering team at a company called ShopStyle. They were crawling all of the merchants online, providing a shopping experience all in one place.
We were originally on a very legacy technology stack and we moved to a more modern one (AngularJS) that allowed the developers to move much more quickly. Because they no longer had to worry about, you know, the parts from the server to the client. All the state was in one place. All the logic was in one place. And the DX was quite nice compared to an older sort of Java monolithic stack and jQuery, which was hard to maintain. It was a cleaner, better structure.
That’s where you have people like Astro trying to do islands, trying to be HTML by default, islands that lazy load when needed. There are pros and cons to that, in terms of the communication and how much needs to be hydrated. Then you have approaches like React Server Components, which say, hey, we can also produce mostly pure HTML and remove a lot of the DOM runtime.
Tyson: Do you have any sense of where things are headed? What will the scene look like in a few years?
Sewell: Where things are headed is super interesting.
Let me tell you the part that we’re focused on. That is that initial page load. That’s something that the latest Jamstack movements, in our opinion, are really falling behind on. It’s very hard to find the e-commerce website or website in general of decent scale that’s got a decent number of engineers contributing to it, the engineers it needs to run an A/B test and personalize and stuff like that. You know, it’s hard to find one of those with a very good Google PageSpeed Insights or Lighthouse score. And I mean a real-world score like Google PageSpeed Mobile, where it’s testing on a 4G connection and a low-powered, emulated device, not on your gigabit-ethernet MacBook Pro M1, right?
Sewell: And that’s where you see frameworks like Marko, which has been leading the way in a lot of ways. You see frameworks like Astro trying to do this islands architecture, which has pros and cons.
We structure a kind of declarative view of what the app should look like, and then the updates and the reactivity should just work. The bundling should be optimized automatically. We shouldn’t have to be wrestling with these things by hand. They should just work. So that’s where we see this stuff headed. How do we deliver the tiniest payload as fast as possible, but still be rich and instantly interactive, which is really quite difficult. And there are a lot of approaches and that’s where Qwik is interesting – in that battleground with the others.
Just to be clear, Misko [Hevery] on the Qwik side is the one who figured out all the really key, important pieces there. There’s a lot of great research by other teams going on too.
Tyson: I have to say, when I looked at Qwik (the Stackblitz example) I thought, wow, lazy loading boundaries at the state, resource, and events. What is possible with this?
Sewell: Totally agree. The Qwik stuff is amazing, and we’re only scratching the surface.
We talk a lot about pure HTML on first load, but you’re talking about the fact that it has these very granular boundaries, so the performance potential you get is crazy. And with Partytown, things are fetched in the background completely. We did a lot of research and found that even things like link prefetching are actually consuming the main thread. But when you’re off in the web worker (as with Partytown) it’s kind of free territory. It’s very isolated doing its own thing. It’s not influencing anything.
Also, with Partytown, you can just say “body inner HTML equals blah,” meaning the code can remain as is, and there you go, it’s running in a worker thread. You’re clicking around a page and the transitions and state changes are literally instant, which is nuts. I mean like one millisecond, it’s just immediately live.
With Qwik it’s also all automated. I don’t know if you’ve seen the demo of the optimizer, but it’s all completely automated. You don’t have to do any wrangling to make it work. A lot of people go in thinking a React app with Webpack is bundling smartly and they don’t realize how not smart it is until later down the road. They have to manually write these async imports, and it becomes a big mess.
Tyson: Yeah, I think a lot of us can relate to that.
Sewell: With the Qwik optimizer, it will automatically divide up your code into the right sized bundles and essentially rewrite it all to be super thin and granular. So when you’re interacting, for instance, child components never hydrate when parents do. It’s really crazy how extremely optimized and thin it is. And we’re just scratching the surface of the implications of that. And it can distribute as plain HTML and it can just wake up and then sort of freeze-dry again, change state.
Tyson: This is the “resumability” of Qwik.
Sewell: Yes, and it could give you things like really granular back-and-forth behavior, like time traveling. The implications and possibilities are crazy, and it’s such a new and unique approach. We’re exploring new possibilities and exciting applications every day, which is amazing.
Tyson: Do you have any advice for folks who are looking at creating a startup, someone with a burning idea?
Sewell: I do have a lot of opinions on this. The primary one from my learnings is: Be religiously obsessed with customers. So you can read The Lean Startup. You can go through any YC program or read any YC literature and it will reinforce the same idea. But I think it’s such a powerful idea that people need to not only understand it, they have to be obsessed with it.
Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.
By Matthew Tyson