26 Jun

Naming Progressive Web Apps

I got an email a few weeks ago from a German technology magazine asking me some questions about Progressive Web Apps. I responded, but the email eventually bounced and I assume the sender never got my reply so I don’t know – can a print magazine go out of business that quickly?

I was thinking about the questions, though, and the answers I wrote. They wanted to know how we came up with the name (it’s really boring) and what I thought about native apps (meh), and would there be hybridisation (probably, inevitably).

I accidentally helped name this thing because it’s essentially core to Alex’s work these days. I’m more of a sounding board / humaniser than an active designer of the thing. Ultimately, we talk about it because I really care about the web – the open web – and sometimes I wonder if it’s too late to save it – which we find a depressing topic, but one we dwell on a lot.

I mean, we can’t even reliably do email still, apparently (I know they’re not the same), and we’ve got bullshit things like AMP essentially screwing up what it even means to have a website at all. AMP is a symptom that someone, somewhere, thinks the web is failing so badly (so slow, so unresponsive) for a portion of the world that they want to take all the content and package it back up in a sterile, un-webby, branded box. That makes me so sad. PWAs, to me, are a potential treatment.

I keep seeing folks (developers) getting all smart-ass saying they should have been PW “Sites” not “Apps” but I just want to put on the record that it doesn’t matter. The name isn’t for you and worrying about it is distraction from just building things that work better for everyone. The name is for your boss, for your investor, for your marketeer. It’s a way for you to keep making things on the open web, even those things that look really “app-y” and your company wants to actually make as a native app, 3 times over. They don’t want you to make websites anymore, but you still can if you’re sneaky, if you tell them it’s what they think they want.

It’s marketing, just like HTML5 had very little to do with actual HTML. PWAs are just a bunch of technologies with a zingy-new brandname that keeps the open web going a bit longer, that helps it compete with the proprietary, the closed, until the next thing (and hopefully the next thing) comes along to keep it sharp and relevant. It’s for the next billion users who come online and open a browser and go looking for what’s out there, for those users who have to pay per mb for their downloads, who have old shitty phones, who don’t want to, or can’t, be on a native-app-based operating system.

Remember, this is for everyone. The name isn’t.

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