Why is Ember fading away?

Ember is less frequently mentioned outside the Ember world every day, or is listed as “historically relevant” (Hannah, January 2018). Although quite funny, the following two tweets depict pretty well what Ember’s situation looks like:

There is a steep difference between what Ember’s community thinks of itself and how it is perceived from the outside. Ember has contributed several essential notions to shape what today we understand as front-end development. However, its popularity is shrinking and its innovations are often disregarded.

Why?

The aim of this article is to start a — hopefully fruitful — dialogue in Ember’s community, and perhaps contribute to our understanding of the JavaScript ecosystem. My argument through the article is that technical reasons are not enough to determine a framework’s growth or success. Below I elaborate on some possible factors that might explain part of the problem.

Not enough leaders

The venue was cozy and vibrating with Ember enthusiasts. It was my first time in a big Ember conference. It was amazing to meet in-person with so many people that I somehow see and follow online. I tried to keep my cool, but I was honestly very excited. “The revolution will not be centralized” was the title of Edward Faulkner’s talk. I had high hopes: are we gonna hear about Ember’s overall direction? I was expecting some sort of refreshing talk, but instead got a sales pitch for his project, Cardstack. Funny enough, such product proposes the use of vertical integration through a single vendor: the exact opposite of decentralization. It’s actually just another example of platform capitalism.

But, why was I expecting more from this talk? Perhaps because it was Edward Faulkner, a core team member. After all, in 10 major Ember events in the past few years, he spoke in 5.

In fact, 50% of the 188 talks in these events have been given by 29 people. The top 18 speakers gave 38% of all the talks.

Yes, all these emojis are just random; to anonimize speakers.
These numbers are the result of scrapping the speakers pages for EmberConf 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018; Ember Camp 2015, 2016, 2017; and EmberFest 2017 (no more historical data was available for this event).

Of course, many more people contribute to building Ember than those who speak at conferences. However, community leaders need a public voice and exposure as part of the broader community. Otherwise, local leaders become mere repeaters. In this scenario, communities are unable to realize their potential to contribute in creative and varied ways to the framework through their diversity.

Ember does not lack leadership. There is a clear direction. But perhaps this view is held in too few hands.

In such respect, Ryan Toronto’s “Safety of the herd” (January 2017) is a quite interesting piece. The argument seems to suggest a cult-like view of Ember conventions: follow the conventions and trust the enlightened minds who build Ember. This mantra is not necessarily harmful. In fact, for most developers such advice will work; they will be free from lots of unnecessary headaches.

However, it’s from deviant behavior that societies evolve (Peissl, 2017). The same could be said of a framework. If nobody challenges the status quo from time to time, the framework will fall into actual stagnation. Same people. Same convictions. All over again, in every version.

Underrepresented?

Undoubtedly this is not a problem exclusive to the Ember community. However, there are noticeable efforts in the Ember community to create a welcoming and inclusive environment.

It was especially warming for me to notice that the gender ratio in the speakers continually gets better each year. For example, the first EmberConf in 2014 had 18% females speakers; however, in 2018, Portland was delighted to have 38% female speakers.

Gender labels were deduced from the use of pronouns in the speakers’ bios.

I want to highlight the work of the Ember Learning Team in this respect. They are, by the way, the most diverse Ember subteam. For instance, their newsletter aims to present Ember developments in a friendly way so more people can get actively involved with the framework.

Funding structure

Before Microsoft strategically hired several key developers and core team members, Ember was pushed forward mainly by companies whose core business is consultancy. On the other hand, Angular and React, for example, constitute direct commodities to their corporate sponsors, Google and Facebook. In that sense, the dynamics that guide Ember are radically different. There are considerably fewer resources available, and the framework doesn’t profit from the network effects that tech giants bring with them.

It’s possible to argue that creating a scarcity of experts would increase the rates at which Ember agencies could charge their customers and thus acquire more estability. I do not know if this motivated some of the decisions taken by Ember’s management. But if they did, I would not blame them. Of course, it is not cheap nor easy to develop and orchestrate a stable ecosystem like the one we have at Ember.

However, if we don’t want Ember to become some forgotten ghetto within the JavaScript community, there has to be more openness and participation. To stay alive and relevant, Ember has to keep influencing the ecosystem as it has in the past.

To make it clear, the fact that Ember is not a direct corporate commodity is one of my favorite features of the framework. After watching how Facebook attempted naughty moves to use React as a tool to extend its corporate power (Kripalani, August 2017) I feel much more comfortable in Ember.

Stay strong!

Synthetic micro benchmarking is not what makes the difference in the success of a framework. Even though I’m excited about Glimmer, I think Ember needs more than a performance boost to avoid becoming a legacy framework. I think diversity and openness can go a long way to introduce fresh ideas and practices in Ember.

The points described before are from my perception of the JavaScript and Ember ecosystems. I am certainly no expert.

What are your thoughts? What, if anything, should be done to make Ember relevant in the JavaScript horizon again?

Don’t mess with my Tomster

References

Hannah, J. (January, 2018). “The Ultimate Guide to JavaScript Frameworks”. JavaScript Report. Retrieved from <https://javascriptreport.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-javascript-frameworks/ >(Last consulted on 09–04–2018)

Kripalani, R. (August, 2017). “If you’re a startup, you should not use React (reflecting on the BSD + patents license)”. Retrieved from <https://medium.com/@raulk/if-youre-a-startup-you-should-not-use-react-reflecting-on-the-bsd-patents-license-b049d4a67dd2> (Last consulted on 09–04–2018).

Peissl, Walter. (2017). What is privacy about and why do we need it? Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Conference dictated at Universität Salzburg on 13–11–2017.

Toronto, R. (January, 2017). “Safety of the herd”. EmberMap. Retrieved from <https://blog.embermap.com/safety-of-the-herd-8d64f9170299> (Last consulted on 09–04–2018)

About me and my biases

I’ve been working with Ember since version 1.10. I’ve learned so much from the community, I am very grateful to all those heroes who build Ember and other open source projects.

I was born in Guatemala, a third-world country, but have been living abroad since last year. I studied some social sciences in Austria, which marked a lot my way of thinking critically about technology. At the moment I live in Copenhagen as I keep studying for my master. I also work as a software prostitute (some call it freelancer but such label doesn’t have enough drama for me).

My DM’s are open on Twitter (@jorgelainfiesta), feel free to contact me!