AngularJS: The Love Affair of the Decade

Richard Gall

February 05th, 2016

AngularJS stands at the apex of the way we think about web development today. Even as we look ahead to Angular 2.0, the framework serves as a useful starting point for thinking about the formation of contemporary expectations about what a web developer actually does and the products and services they create. Notably (for me at least) Angular is closely tied up with Packt’s development over the past few years. It’s had an impact on our strategic focus, forcing us to think about our customers in new ways.

Let’s think back to the world before AngularJS. This was back in the days when Backbone.js meant something, when Knockout was doing the rounds. As this article from October has it, AngularJS effectively took advantage of a world suffering from ‘Framework fatigue’. It’s as if there was a ‘framework bubble’, and it’s only when that bubble burst that the way forward becomes clearer.

This was a period of experimentation and exploration; improvement and efficiency were paramount, but a symptom of this was the way in which trends – some might say fads – took hold of the collective imagination. This period was a ‘framework’ bubble which, I’d suggest, prefigures the startup bubble, a period in which we’re living today. Developers were looking for new ways of doing things; they wanted to be more efficient, their projects more scalable, fast, and robust. All those words that are attached to development (in both senses of the word) took on particular urgency.

As you might expect, this unbelievable pace of growth and change was like catnip for Packt. This insatiable desire for new tools was something that we could tapped into, delivering information and learning materials on even the most niche new tools.

It was exciting. But it couldn’t last.

It was thanks to AngularJS that this changed. Ironically, if AngularJS burst the framework bubble, ending what seemed like an endless stream of potential topics to cover, it also supplied us with some of our most popular titles. AngularJS Web Application Development Cookbook, for example, was a huge success. Written by Matt Frisbie, it helped us to forge a stronger relationship with the AngularJS world. It was weird – its success also brought an end to a very exciting period of growth, where Packt was able to reach out to new customers, small communities that other publishers could not. But we had to grow up. AngularJS was like a friend’s wedding; it made us realise that we needed to become more mature, more stable.

But why, we should ask, was AngularJS so popular? Everyone is likely to have their own different story, their own experience of adopting AngularJS, and that, perhaps, is precisely the point. Brian Rinaldi, in the piece to which I refer above, notes a couple of things that made Angular a framework to which people could commit. Its ties with Google, for example gave it a mark of authority and reliability, while its ability to integrate with other frameworks means developers still have the flexibility to use the tools they want to while still having a single place to which they could return. Brian writes:

The point is, all these integrations not only made the choice of Angular easier, but make leaving harder. It’s no longer just about the code I write, but Angular is tied into my entire development experience.

Experience is fundamental here. If the framework bubble was all about different ways of doing the same thing faster and more effectively, today the reverse is true. Developers want to work in one way, but to be able to do lots of things. It’s a change in priorities; the focus of the modern web developer in 2016 has changed. The challenges are different, as mobile devices, SPAs, cloud, personalization, have become fundamental issues for web developers to reckon with. Good web developers looks beyond the immediacy of their project, and need to think carefully about users and about how they can deliver a great product or service.

That’s what we’ve found at Packt. The challenges faced by the customers we serve are no longer quite so transparent or simple. If, just a few years ago, we relied upon the simple need to access information about a new framework, today the situation is more nuanced. Many of the challenges are due to changing user behaviour, a fragmentation of needs and contexts.

For example, maybe you want to learn responsive web design? Or need to build a mobile app? Of course, these problems haven’t just appeared in the last 12 months, but they are no longer additional extras, but central to success. It’s these problems that have had a part in causing the startup bubble – businesses solving (or, if they’re really good, disrupting) customer needs with software.

A framework such as React might be seen as challenging AngularJS. But despite its dedicated, almost evangelical core of support, it’s nevertheless relatively small. And it would also be wrong to see the emergence of React (alongside other tools, including Meteor), as a return to the heady days of the framework bubble. Instead it has grown out of a world inculcated by Angular – it is, remember, a tool designed to build a very specific type of application. The virtual DOM, after all, is an innovation that helps deliver a truly immediate and fast user experience. The very thing that makes React great is why it won’t supplant Angular – why would it even want to? If you do one thing, and do it well, you’re adding value that people couldn’t get from anywhere else.

Fear of obsolescence – that’s the world in which AngularJS entered, and the world in which Packt grew. But today, the greatest fear isn’t so much obsolescence, it’s ‘Am I doing the right thing for my users? Are my customers going to like this website – this new app?

So, as we await Angular 2.0, don’t forget what AngularJS does for you – don’t forget the development experience and don’t forget to think about your users. Packt will be ready when you want to learn 2.0 – but we’ll also still have the insights and guidance you need to do something new with AngularJS.

Progress and development isn’t linear; it’s never a straight line. So don’t be scared to explore, rediscover what works. It’s not always about what’s new, it’s about what’s right for you.

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