Functionality over style16 May 2020
I’ve been learning NodeJS recently. As a way to do this, I developed a URL shortening REST API. Give it a long URL, and it will return a short code that can be shared instead.
Building the backend logic was super fun, fast and seamless. I learnt a lot too. However, a few weeks ago I decided I wanted to add a frontend so I could self-host this service and start using it. I thought I could make a Spanish-friendly version of TinyURL or Bitly, so it’s easier to pronounce and say out loud.
This is where things got complicated. So many decisions! Should I go for a microservice architecture, and separate the backend API from the frontend app? Should I use React, or just jQuery? Should I server-side render or let the frontend take care of that? What CSS library should I use? Maybe Bootstrap, but maybe Tailwind.
Eventually I gave up. Looking back I think it was partly because of decision fatigue, but more so because I was complicating the system more than I had to. In fact, I was thinking of everything except the core feature: given a long URL, return a short URL.
The resulting application has two pages: the homepage, where you can shorten your URLs, and a summary page of the URL you’ve created.
I feel liberated. I was able to ship something and get an MVP out in a day. I was able to do this because I was ruthless in deciding what would make it into the basic, first release.
This got me thinking about something: functionality is more valuable than looks.
These websites are UGLY.
But they provide a great amount of value to their users, so looks don’t matter too much.
I’m going to try to keep this in mind when developing applications as a hobby but also professionally. Focus on the basics. Chances are they’re enough to provide value.
Disclaimer: as a full-stack engineer with a backend skew, maybe I would have a slightly different opinion if I could develop beautiful frontends at speed ;)