Zach’s ugly mug (his face)

Zach Leatherman

Who Pays for Web Frameworks?

October 12, 2021 #2 Popular

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.

NameInvestmentOwnership💵
AngularGoogle-
Astro(as Skypack CDN)Open Collective
Eleventy--Open Collective
Gatsby$46.8MGatsby (Inc.)-
Jekylloriginally GitHubOpen Collective
MarkoeBay
Meteor$30.2M
Next.js$163MVercel-
Nuxt.js$2M (as NuxtLabs)Open Collective, GitHub Sponsors
PreactOpen Collective, GitHub Sponsors
ReactFacebook-
Remix Run$3MPaid Subscriptions
SvelteOpen Collective
SolidJSOpen Collective
VuePatreon, Open Collective, Swag Store

This list was loosely compliled from the Jamstack Community Survey 2021.

Ownership

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:

  1. Ownership by a company (unrelated to the framework). e.g. Facebook, eBay, Google.
  2. 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 😱
  3. Take donations. I think Vue is doing the best job of this. The other thing Vue does well is:
  4. 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).
  5. 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.

Conclusion

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.

Open Graph image from Jason Pofahl on Unsplash

Zach’s ugly mug (his face)

Zach is a builder for the web with Netlify. He created the Eleventy static site generator and is still fixated on web fonts. His public speaking résumé includes talks in eight different countries at events like Beyond Tellerrand, Smashing Conference, CSSConf, and The White House. He is an emeritus of Filament Group, NEJS CONF, and still helps out with NebraskaJS. Read more about Zach »

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11 Replies
  1. joão melo

    joão melo @joaomeloplus #

    just as a hypothesis, it would be interesting to know if svelte creator was/is able to support the framework during working hours in the newspapers he worked/works. i have the impression those companies are also users of the framework.

  2. Zach Leatherman

    Zach Leatherman @zachleat #

    Ah, I think this is what @gregwhitworth was talking about yesterday but I don’t feel like I quite understood what he meant until now! I don’t think that I’ve seen that model play out in the web framework world yet!

  3. joão melo

    joão melo @joaomeloplus #

    excellent text, thank you. another model is a variation of the owner approach. the big company behaves like some sort of patron paying salary for the creator and/or maintainers to work on the oss project without literally owning it.

  4. Typetura

    Typetura @typetura #

    This is a really important post. Thank you so much for sharing and I’m excited to learn more about your explorations on this. For us: sell a suite of products, services, and IP that layer on top of our framework.

  5. Greg Whitworth

    Greg Whitworth @gregwhitworth #

    I mean we do OSS contributions and have voting on it: engineering.salesforce.com/announcing-the… That said, that doesn't have to be the only avenue in which this can and does occur across corps. Ultimately, it's of value for corps to ensure pivotal libs to their software are mai… Truncated

  6. Zach Leatherman

    Zach Leatherman @zachleat #

    Ah, yeah—that makes sense. I’m curious which Corp-driven frameworks are doing this?

  7. Greg Whitworth

    Greg Whitworth @gregwhitworth #

    I'm saying, Corp foo decides to invest in Eleventy and you can have legalise that states as such. Now, there is a way to have control gained which is to supply so many devs that direction can be taken. This is where a governance model becomes important.

  8. Zach Leatherman

    Zach Leatherman @zachleat #

    Curious which frameworks specifically you’re thinking of when you say Corp funded isn’t Corp control?

  9. Greg Whitworth

    Greg Whitworth @gregwhitworth #

    funded doesn't have to mean corp control of direction. And with that comes the tradeoff of understanding that if the directions change that funding may move but they don't have to be mutually exclusive

  10. Greg Whitworth

    Greg Whitworth @gregwhitworth #

    This is an interesting question and I'm curious how you bifurcation some of them as I think you could combine a lot of them but based on legal authoring. Eg, a corp could heavily invest in your framework via open collective; heck they could even fund it via PRs. Being corp...

  11. Atila 🥋

    Atila 🥋 @AtilaFassina #

    thank you for write-up, Zach shared a little bit of insight I was looking for… Do you also know if is there a common pattern on the RoI investors expect??? I’m not really sure this question makes total sense… 😅🤔

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    1. Nicholas Frota

      Nicholas Frota @nonlinear #

      Researching ethical business models for digital products zachleat.com/web/monetizati…

    2. 『Every Layout』予約受付中 / 全部入りHTML太郎

      『Every Layout』予約受付中 / 全部入りHTML太郎 @_yuheiy #

      Who pAys fOR WeB FRAMeworKs?—zAChlEat.cOm ZachLeAT.coM/WEb/mONeTIZaTi…

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