The Jamstack and Small Business

As small business owner, it pays to be curious about new web technologies. It’s important to keep up with the latest trends in the industry. In recent years a bewildering variety of front-end web design frameworks have gained popularity. WordPress remains the most popular content management system (CMS) for small businesses. New technologies like the Jamstack seem to promise more. If you’ve heard the buzz about the Jamstack, you may be wondering what it is and how it works. Read on to find out!

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The Jamstack in Simple Terms

The ‘Jam’ in Jamstack stands for JavaScript, APIs, and Markup. Let’s take these terms one at a time. JavaScript has been the go-to language for front end web design for over 25 years. Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, are pieces of software that make it easy for different software, hardware, or programming languages to communicate with each other.

Markup can refer to anything from HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) to writing tools like Markdown. In the Jamstack, Markup is a creative way of referring to Static Site Generators. SSGs like Jekyll and Hugo use Markup to help generate HTML pages to display.

Rather that generating site content every time someone visits a page, static sites serve up plain HTML, CSS, and JavaScript with no direct call to the ‘back end’. This is much faster than generating the site each time you access it. Visitors don’t wait for a site’s backend to create a page— a server just sends the visitor an HTML file containing the complete page immediately.

Structural Differences

Listing the pieces of a Jamstack site does not emphasize what makes it special. The Jamstack’s innovation is making the most of modern cloud technology. On the Jamstack, there is no need for a traditional ‘back end’ of a website.

Imagine an e-commerce site. A ‘standard’ e-commerce site requires a variety of functions: inventory management, user management, purchases, image hosting, article posting, social media management, etc. Normally, you build a website to do all of these tasks in once place. With WordPress sites, the easiest way to add new capabilities is to install plugins.

A Jamstack website takes a different approach. The site designer focuses on designing the website’s front end appearance and presentation with modern tools like React. Whenever the designer needs advanced functionality, some front-end JavaScript code uses an API to ‘call’ another service. That other service can be anything— a Facebook dashboard display, a YouTube media window, a payment processing platform like PayPal, even a ‘traditional’ website like a WordPress site!

I can hear you now: “Oh, great— we just designed a second, more expensive website to access our old website.” It sounds like a joke, but some people actually start off by doing just that! Before you write off the Jamstack as overly complicated, take a look at what makes these sites special. For the right business, the time and effort required to set up a Jamstack site can result in time— and money— saved later on.

What Makes the Jamstack Amazing?

Front End Freedom

With the Jamstack, your front end designers are fully in control. Web designers can use the latest advanced tools like React and Vue.js to design intricate, beautiful, and modern user experiences. Best of all, your designers can focus on making your site truly mobile first— something that can be a difficult compromise on WordPress under even the best of circumstances.

Site Speed Increases

The setup of the Jamstack means that page load times are incredibly fast. After all, your ‘pages’ are just simple HTML, CSS, and JavaScript served as-is! Any complicated, generated information like user profiles or a shopping cart is ‘filled in’ using JavaScript. You can easily design the site so that users refresh and reload data without leaving the page. This creates a more seamless experience and encourages user engagement.

Tasks are Isolated, Change is Quicker

Your back end developers and sysadmins are still vitally important when you run on the Jamstack. The great news is that their jobs get simpler! Since every service and server-side interaction is an individual API call, each individual task and action can be optimized in isolation. Complicated processes like inventory management and user tracking can be tested, rebuilt, and switched in isolation without needing to redo the entire site in one go. The ability to make rapid changes helps you keep your site up to date and ‘future proof’.

For advanced applications, tools like Kubernetes can help you effectively scale the most data-intensive parts of your apps without getting bogged down in the rest of your system’s architecture. You may even find it cost effective to offload entire sections of your site! Want to hire a separate service to manage user memberships or let your payment processor’s servers handle your transaction bandwidth? On the Jamstack, these improvements are as easy as changing a few lines of JavaScript.

Security and Attack Surface

Many of the avenues of attack used by criminals and hackers don’t meaningfully exist on Jamstack sites. One good example of this is the injection attack— a method of inserting malicious code into a site’s database. Injection attacks are a constant threat on generated sites. With Jamstack sites, visitors do not directly interact with the site’s database; everything is mediated by APIs. The site design does not solve every possible problem, but the Jamstack does make a criminal’s job much more difficult!

What’s the Catch?

With all the benefits of the Jamstack, you’re probably wondering why everyone online has not already switched. Here are a few good reasons to stick with more widely used tools like WordPress.

Expert Friendly, Not Worker Friendly

If you’re a talented front end web designer with an understanding of systems architecture, the Jamstack is a natural choice. If you’re a small business owner who just wants to use the Jamstack to build a website, you have two options:

  • Become a talented front end designer with an understanding of systems architecture
  • Hire a talented front end designer with an understanding of systems architecture

This may change in the future as the Jamstack becomes more popular. In the meantime, the world has thousands of talented, reliable, and affordable WordPress developers working with more straightforward software to solve practical problems.

More Moving Parts

Nearly every Jamstack website is a custom configuration that takes talented developers a significant amount of time to craft. Conversely, even a novice user can install a WordPress site in less than ten minutes. Even larger businesses may not benefit enough from the Jamstack to justify the significant time, effort, and risk involved.

The Greatest Benefits are at Scale

The optimization improvements that the Jamstack offers are most beneficial on sites with literally millions of visitors. Twitter benefits from single page application architecture like the Jamstack because Twitter manages millions of simultaneous page views. If you rarely see more than a few dozen simultaneous visitors to your site, you’ll likely benefit from more practical optimization solutions.

Lose Out on Ease of Use

Even novice WordPress users can, with a little help, make a blog post or add content to a page. Thanks to WordPress’s WYSIWYG editing, even non-technical employees can be productive in a short amount of time. Experimental site architecture loses out on most of this ease of use. Even someone that combines WordPress with the Jamstack, a configuration known as a ‘headless WordPress site’, is going to lose out on easy editing, previewing, and many plugins.

Looking Ahead and Finding a Balance

The Jamstack may not be right for you now. Don’t make the leap until you’ve done the appropriate research and understand the tradeoffs of time and cost involved. That said, it’s still worth staying informed and keeping an eye on the technology! Consider setting up a Headless WordPress site with the Jamstack to get a feel for the latest trends in web architecture. That way, if you ever do need to scale up fast, you’ll be ready for it.

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