Like many people, I enjoy traveling, seeing new places and meeting new people. Two of my favorite places to visit are the wide open spaces of desert areas and historic old cities. These seemingly opposite ends of the travel compass have one thing in common: the ability to look back in history through the layers.
A Grand Canyon vista presents us with a view of the sedimentary rock layers of geological history. A walk around London presents us with a look through the layers of human history. As these landmarks demonstrate, many of our planet’s most sustained and beautiful areas are built on the foundations of the past, leaving a deep layer of history that might be missed by the naked eye because it all works as expected.
In geology and archaeology, we continually find that the new is on the top of what came before it unless great forces intervene. To build a new road, people generally lay down a new surface on the existing road. It is more efficient than forging new paths which can often be difficult and may not reflect where people wish to go.
The same is true of computer systems. Powerful network effects and high switching costs tend to build layers of technology. New frameworks tend to be built on top of existing standards, with each new layer providing a rich new set of functionality. Whether this is Java, .NET, jQuery or Knockout, each builds on the layers that came before.
It is possible to build a completely new technology stack in the same way a new city can arise from empty fields. But these projects typically involve high risk and high costs, and should only be attempted when the benefits justify the cost.
For new web properties, speed to market is essential. There is no need to build an entirely new technology stack to deliver an immersive, impressive site. Most people will agree with this general statement but many will view the foundation of the stack as the operating system, or the web server layer.
I believe we have arrived at the maturity level where web application platforms should be considered part of the computing stack for new projects alongside the operating system and web server. Proven and extensible web application platforms exist today that make building new user databases and new ways of creating, storing and delivering content high risk, high cost and low reward. And here’s why.
We are at that moment when the web application platform layer of the technology stack is settled in to be a part of the future – the same way as the operating system and web server are today. This doesn’t mean stagnation; but instead quite the opposite. Some may think that web application platforms can be rebuilt and recreated, yet only a bold person would suggest building a new operating system and web server to deliver web content. Why is that?
It appears that the jury is still out on the “right” approach. Many consultants, corporate web teams and hobbyists already build millions of sites with existing web application platforms with customizations of visual design and content only. Yet many still are not – and are built as an entirely new application from the web server layer upward. These invariably suffer the common afflictions of racing past budget constraints and deadlines.
The lowest-risk and highest-reward option is choosing an existing web application platform layer for a project base. This sounds comforting but still requires careful thought and analysis to make the correct choice of web application platform. Not all platforms make stable layers to build upon.
There are always multiple options even if you have decided on major layers like the operating system and web server. Narrowing the field further requires examination of crucial aspects of platforms that drive project success. The successful platforms have much in common:
- They have been tested by the market and are mature products
- Thousands of production examples exist
- They are easily extended through APIs and are usually open source
- There is an extensive community and ecosystem of developers, designers and implementation partners
When we look into history we can see the broad brushes of the future reflected. Roads and buildings of the future will be better but will be built upon the foundations and pathways we have today. Geological forces will shape the ground of tomorrow by depositing new sedimentary layers today.
The web application platform has settled as a layer in the web landscape. The best choice for building on that layer is to choose a solid foundation. “New Project” should no longer mean digging down to the operating system bedrock. An existing, tested, extensible, mature and open source web application platform is now the right place to start. Let the past help build a successful future.
Meet the Author: Bruce Chapman is a product manager for DNN and former CEO of iFinity, which was acquired by DNN in 2012. Bruce has extensive experience in creating a diverse collection of corporate workflow solutions, consumer oriented websites, sales applications, asset registration applications and more.