Is Interest in JavaScript Declining?

Corey Butler
Feb 18 · 6 min read

This question was originally asked on Quora. The original response was sent to over two million Quora users. This article expands upon the answer.

Google trends suggests “javascript” interest is in decline.

December 2020

One glimpse at a downward trending chart from the world’s most popular search engine could easily make one believe people have grown tired of JavaScript. This is only part of the picture though.

Using Google trends as the sole measure of public interest is a flawed approach. Google trends only measures what people search for on Google. Remember, search engines aren’t actually a source of technical knowledge — they’re a conduit to the knowledge. Search, click, and be directed to the actual source of information.

Google isn’t the first stop for most JavaScript developers anymore. Instead, sites like GitHub, Stack Overflow, and even publications like Medium/Twitter are the “go to” resource for JavaScript developers seeking new information. Google trends doesn’t have access to search statistics on those sites.

A slightly more appropriate measure of public interest is the Tiobe index. It is a more accurate measure of which programming languages companies are actually using, not just searching for.

December 2020

JavaScript has fluctuated a few positions over the years, but consistently remained in the top 10 through most of its 18 year tenure on the index.

GitHub paints a very different picture of JavaScript, where it has been #1 since 2014.

As of Dec 2020

Stack Overflow shows similar results from their 2020 Developer Survey. JavaScript has taken the top spot for the last eight consecutive years.

February 2020

Reviewing multiple different outlets for developers suggests interest in JavaScript hasn’t decreased at all. It may even be increasing.

Why would JavaScript be less popular for Google users?

For the most part, all programming languages have seen a decrease in Google searches. The one exception is C++, which has been a fundamental part of software development prior to the existence of Google or GitHub. There are still many C++ resources on the web which aren’t a part of GitHub, giving people a greater need for a “conduit to C++ information”.

Python also increased a little bit. Take a mental note of that for later.

Keyword tracking for trend analysis lacks context, which is why certain terms would be less popular among Google users. A single term rarely defines all aspects of a discipline. For example, JavaScript has become so commonplace in the software world that most people use the abbreviation — “js”.

Google trends for “js”

The chart above indicates an increase in people searching for “js”. While many people are probably searching for JavaScript, “js” is just two letters. It can be an acronym for other things as well.

It gets more interesting when the graphs for “javascript” and “js” are overlaid on the same chart.

“javascript” in red, “js” in blue

Notice how the terms converge around the same volume of searches. When people search for “js”, it’s often in context of a specific library, runtime, or framework. For example “node js” or “react js”. An argument could be made that people are using Google to search for JavaScript libraries. Google is still a good place to search for how-to guides, blogs, and other information which may not be centrally located on sites like GitHub or Stack Overflow.

Google users changed their habits. Instead of searching for information about the JavaScript language, they search for information about how to use the language.

Is there a sign here?

Understanding this information requires a little bit of historical knowledge about JavaScript and the general software development community.

Outside events affect search term trends. In 2004, JavaScript was used very differently than it is today. Many people were still creating server-rendered pages while JavaScript was reinventing itself (jQuery, AJAX, widget frameworks). In 2008, both GitHub and Stack Overflow were founded. As their popularity grew, developers increasingly made those sites their first stop for finding all things “programming”. This reduces the data Google can capture (no visitor, no data).

Additionally, Google isn’t the only search engine. Bing has been around for several years, not to mention it is the default in Microsoft Edge/Windows. Search engines like Baidu and Yandex also take away from some of Google’s international audience. The point: there are many detractors from any individual search source, so these trend lines cannot be relied upon to determine global interest in a subject. It is very hard to determine this without a complete data set from all providers, which nobody has.

In this author’s opinion, these trends are more indicative that Google offers less value than niche-specific platforms, at least for programming communities.

I believe in this so strongly that I’ve started my own efforts to build a new tech community around documentation (Metadoc). I’m betting the global tech community will continue shifting to platforms more finely tuned for specific purposes, like learning how to code.

People may not be searching for programming language names as often as they are using related terms to understand tech concepts. To illustrate, here’s a Google trend chart for some conceptual terms that are related to programming, but aren’t language-specific:

Tech Concept Searches

The upward trend suggests people are searching to learn about tech concepts, but using niche-specific sites as reference material. In other words, Google is good for “what is ___ and why should I use it”, while niche platforms focus on “how do I use ___”.

Remember how Python searches increased a little bit? It coincides with the trend line for “data science”. Python is well known for having several solid data science libraries written in the language. It makes one wonder if searches for “python” were associated with the rise in popularity of “data science”.

Concluding Thoughts

When the world accepted JavaScript at a global scale, it stopped asking “what/why?” and started asking “how?”. It might be tempting to assume a downward trend of “what/why” implies disinterest, but the “how” questions clearly show vivid interest. That’s why a single trend chart alone doesn’t provide enough relevant context to make statements about global interest of a language.

Remember to clap if you liked this or want to see more articles like these.

Original Quora answer: https://qr.ae/pNlOxq

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Corey Butler

Written by

I build communities, companies, and code. Cofounder of Metadoc.io. Created Fenix Web Server & NVM for Windows.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

Corey Butler

Written by

I build communities, companies, and code. Cofounder of Metadoc.io. Created Fenix Web Server & NVM for Windows.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

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