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Healthcare, Selling Lemons, and the Price of Developer Experience | CSS-Tricks


Every now and then, a one blog post is published and it spurs a reaction or response in others that are, in turn, published as blogs posts, and a theme starts to emerge. That’s what happened this past week and the theme developed around the cost of JavaScript frameworks — a cost that, in this case, reveals just how darn important it is to use JavaScript responsibly.

Eric Bailey: Modern Health, frameworks, performance, and harm

This is where the story begins. Eric goes to a health service provider website to book an appointment and gets… a blank screen.

In addition to a terrifying amount of telemetry, Modern Health’s customer-facing experience is delivered using React and Webpack.

If you are familiar with how the web is built, what happened is pretty obvious: A website that over-relies on JavaScript to power its experience had its logic collide with one or more other errant pieces of logic that it summons. This created a deadlock.

If you do not make digital experiences for a living, what happened is not obvious at all. All you see is a tiny fake loading spinner that never stops.

D’oh. This might be mere nuisance — or even laughable — in some situations, but not when someone’s health is on the line:

A person seeking help in a time of crisis does not care about TypeScript, tree shaking, hot module replacement, A/B tests, burndown charts, NPS, OKRs, KPIs, or other startup jargon. Developer experience does not count for shit if the person using the thing they built can’t actually get what they need.

This is the big smack of reality. What happens when our tooling and reporting — the very things that are supposed to make our work more effective — get in the way of the user experience? These are tools that provide insights that can help us anticipate a user’s needs, especially in a time of need.

I realize that pointing the finger at JavaScript frameworks is already divisive. But this goes beyond whether you use React or framework d’jour. It’s about business priorities and developer experience conflicting with user experiences.

Alex Russell: The Market for Lemons

Partisans for slow, complex frameworks have successfully marketed lemons as the hot new thing, despite the pervasive failures in their wake, crowding out higher-quality options in the process.

These technologies were initially pitched on the back of “better user experiences”, but have utterly failed to deliver on that promise outside of the high-management-maturity organisations in which they were born. Transplanted into the wider web, these new stacks have proven to be expensive duds.

There’s the rub. Alex ain’t mincing words, but notice that the onus is on the way frameworks haved been marketed to developers than developers themselves. The sales pitch?

Once the lemon sellers embed the data-light idea that improved “Developer Experience” (“DX”) leads to better user outcomes, improving “DX” became and end unto itself, and many who knew better felt forced to play along. The long lead times in falsifying trickle-down UX was a feature, not a bug; they don’t need you to succeed, only to keep buying.

As marketing goes, the “DX” bait-and-switch is brilliant, but the tech isn’t delivering for anyone but developers.

Tough to stomach, right? No one wants to be duped, and it’s tough to admit a sunken cost when there is one. It gets downright personal if you’ve invested time in a specific piece of tech and effort integrating it into your stack. Development workflows are hard and settling into one is sorta like settling into a house you plan on living in a little while. But you’d want to know if your house was built on what Alex calls a “sandy foundation”.

I’d just like to pause here a moment to say I have no skin in this debate. As a web generalist, I tend to adopt new tools early for familiarity then drop them fast, relegating them to my toolshed until I find a good use for them. In other words, my knowledge is wide but not very deep in one area or thing. HTML, CSS, and JavaScript is my go-to cocktail, but I do care a great deal about user experience and know when to reach for a tool to solve a particular thing.

And let’s acknowledge that not everyone has a say in the matter. Many of us work on managed teams that are prescribed the tools we use. Alex says as much, which I think is important to call out because it’s clear this isn’t meant to be personal. It’s a statement on our priorities and making sure they along to user expectations.

Let’s alow Chris to steer us back to the story…

Chris Coyier: End-To-End Tests with Content Blockers?

So, maybe your app is built on React and it doesn’t matter why it’s that way. There’s still work to do to ensure the app is reliable and accessible.

Just blocking a file shouldn’t totally wreck a website, but it often does! In JavaScript, that may be because the developers have written first-party JavaScript (which I’ll generally allow) that depends on third-party JavaScript (which I’ll generally block).

[…]

If I block resources from tracking-website.com, now my first-party JavaScript is going to throw an error. JavaScript isn’t chill. If an error is thrown, it doesn’t execute more JavaScript further down in the file. If further down in that file is transitionToOnboarding();— that ain’t gonna work.

Maybe it’s worth revisiting your workflow and tweaking it to account to identify more points of failure.

So here’s an idea: Run your end-to-end tests in browsers that have popular content blockers with default configs installed. 

Doing so may uncover problems like this that stop your customers, and indeed people in need, from being stopped in their tracks.

Good idea! Hey, anything that helps paint a more realistic picture of how the app is used. That sort of clarity could happen a lot earlier in the process, perhaps before settling on development decisions. Know your users. Why are they using the app? How do they browse the web? Where are they phsically located? What problems could get in their way? Chris has a great talk on that, too.



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