Jamstack vs WordPress

— 5 minute read

Clickbait headline aside, there's a good old fashioned technology fight brewing between the founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, and the founder of Netlify, Matt Biilman.

Wait. Why didn't I title this "To the Matt! Wrestling for the Future of the Web"? Opportunity missed.

In the interest of full disclosure:

  • Netlify is a podcast editing client.
  • I recently switched this site from being hosted on WordPress to one hosted on Netlify.
  • In a funny turn of events, my business' website is still hosted on WordPress at Flywheel.

Not surprisingly, Mullenweg isn't a fan of Jamstack based websites and even went so far as to compare it to running Moveable Type (pouring one out for the first CMS I ever used):

JAMstack is a regression for the vast majority of the people adopting it,” Mullenweg told me over email. “The usability and functionality is actually lower. Even rebuilding sites in JAMstack harkens back to the Movable Type days, where the bigger your site gets the slower it is to rebuild or update templates

I have no experience with using Jamstack on a large site. But this blog right here has over 1,800 posts in the blog archives and the site build with Eleventy takes a few minutes when I hit publish. Definitely slower than when I hit publish on a new post on my WordPress site. But not so egregious that I get annoyed and want to move back to WordPress.

Which is where I agree with Matt Biilman's response completely:

There’s simply no reason to believe that the disadvantages of the Jamstack that Mullenweg points out are inherent to the approach or unsolvable problems – and meanwhile it feels undeniable that the developer excitement and ecosystem groundswell has already reached a tipping point where so much of what is left is a maturing of the whole ecosystem.

Both styles of hosting a website have issues. Plugins fail to update on WordPress (Automattic's own Jetpack plugin is the main culprit for failing to update properly in my WordPress experience), packages sometimes have to be updated with weird incantations copied and pasted into the Terminal in order to properly run open source software like Eleventy.

For personal blogs and small business sites, you have to enjoy a certain level of tinkering to use either WordPress or Jamstack. Or you pay money to outsource it so you don't have to fix the plumbing every so often.

For me, WordPress has a huge advantage in the design of a website. I think it's only a matter of time before the Jamstack catches up on this, but developers as a rule aren't as concerned with how it looks vs how it works. And that's fine initially. But as the developers flock to Jamstack, hopefully the designers follow. Right now it's difficult to find many well designed themes or templates for Jamstack sites - whereas you can't scroll through a WordPress search without hitting thousands of themes.

But for my money, Jamstack based sites are the way forward for me. I love that my entire website can be packed up in a Zip file and backed up and moved with a quick copy / paste. Design can come later. The words on the page are what really matters to me. The ease with which anyone - even a basic developer like me - can spin up a website on Netlify is crazy awesome. It feels powerful. Nerdy. Fun.

The way I'd feel if I knew how to fix the hole in the drywall in my office or build a shed in the backyard. I. Have. Created.

Speaking of the money, the fact that for a lot of folks a free account on Netlify + a domain registration of $15 - $25/year is all they'd need to run a blog is a huge consideration. WordPress sites require a fast enough server to maintain the CMS and generally you're paying $5 - $15/month on up - especially if you've got a large site with lots of posts or pages.

So I don't think Mullenweg's jab at Jamstack being comparable to the Movable Type days is fair. It sounds like the old man worried and jealous of the new shiny that's stealing attention away from his toy that used to be the new shiny. The beautiful part of the web is that there's plenty of room for both WordPress and Jamstack - and the whole world of sites built on services like Wix, Squarespace, etc. Just like me with one foot in Jamstack land and the other still in WordPress, we have the luxury of being able to pick and choose the platforms and tech stack we want to use, depending on the project.

Now if only Jamstack could fix my wall.