Who Pays for Web Frameworks?
Three years into working on Eleventy, I continue to be blown away by the adoption and community support of folks contributing to the underdog.
It has me thinking about sustainability models for this style of web framework—what are other folks doing to fund development? Recent news would suggest that more and more folks are going the route of taking investment. It has me considering the hidden costs of such routes.
Nonetheless, I thought the best place to start would be to compile the data.
|Astro||(as Skypack CDN)||Open Collective|
|Jekyll||originally GitHub||Open Collective|
|Nuxt.js||$2M (as NuxtLabs)||Open Collective, GitHub Sponsors|
|Preact||Open Collective, GitHub Sponsors|
|Vue||Patreon, Open Collective, Swag Store|
This list was loosely compliled from the Jamstack Community Survey 2021.
Ownership is such an interesting piece of the game here. Is it better to have a framework owned by a company? And better for whom? I’m sure they have increased velocity, delivering and moving fast with dedicated resources. But what happens when the corporate interests diverge from the community’s interests? One is reminded of Basecamp’s implosion and the downstream effects it had on their open source projects. Similarly—in a hypothetical world where folks on the React core team resigned from Facebook, it would have devastating effects on the React community and the future of React.
Alternatively, I decided early that I wanted Eleventy to be independent from commercial ownership and had very positive and supportive discussions about that when I joined Netlify. From the outside it would appear that both Svelte and Preact and has taken a similar route but I’d love to learn more about how those are set up.
It should be said that decoupled ownership is risky in a different way to folks deciding whether to trust a framework—will it have the resources to support regular maintenance? Will it have the legs to continue to be viable in 5 years?
My opinions here are probably obvious now: I think commercial ownership and tight coupling has more downsides than independence. It reminds me of employer-provided healthcare in the United States—having it tightly coupled is far less flexible and makes it harder to switch employers (to the benefit of the employer).
After compiling the data, there are a couple of clear trends at play here:
- Ownership by a company (unrelated to the framework). e.g. Facebook, eBay, Google.
- Raise investment, form a hosting company for the framework. Meteor was one of the first examples I found to take this approach. But both Gatsby and Next.js have popularized this. I don’t feel comfortable with this, either. The way to make money becomes hosting vendor lock-in at the framework level 😱
- Take donations. I think Vue is doing the best job of this. The other thing Vue does well is:
- Sell sponsorships. Though, a word of caution as some less-than-reputable sponsors have figured out that sponsorship is a cheap way to buy backlinks, which some very popular projects have decided is a necessary evil to monetization (I don’t agree).
- Sell subscriptions. Remix went this way originally. They had some success but low adoption and changed it up when they raised investment.
1 and 2 are almost exclusively distinct. 3 does not pair well with 1 or 2. 3 and 4 can pair nicely.
I don’t have the answers. I definitely wouldn’t agree that Eleventy has figured out our sustainable monetization strategy but I do really admire the success that Vue has had solving this exact problem. I do know that I have no interest in Trend 2 but I’ll continue to keep a keen eye on what other indie-framework folks are doing.