Yesterday’s Thoughts

September 22, 2005

Another Good Thing about Rails

There are many excellent features of Ruby on Rails. The technology has significant advantages for rapid development and deployment and I don’t think that I could undertake the work that I am doing to develop factscollector without it. I can prototype rapidly, and deploy the simplest thing that could possibly work. My plan is that this will also make it possible to incorporate user feedback and develop and deploy new features quickly. The software is simple and the one drawback that people often point to, “will it scale” is irrelevant to me. My design will scale, so I am not concerned about the framework scaling for me.

One aspect of Rails that hasn’t received that much attention from outsiders is the quality of the community.

I have been hanging out on the Ruby on Rails mailing list (archive). It is a great resource. Essentially everyone who has ever contributed to Rails and representatives of most of the major sites that have been deployed using Rails are regular contributors. The newest newbies hang out right next to them. It is a fascinating community.

There are about a hundred of messages a day, and dozens of new threads. Topics range from I’m having trouble installing on my platform to this feature is planned for version 1.0 to submit a patch. This is the full gamut of possibilities. There is really very little snipping or flamage. The only heated discussions that I can remember in the 6 or more months that I have been on the list have been about the rails pluralization conventions.

The interesting thing is that this list is a real community. One of the reasons for that is the care that people have exerted over the list. In regard to someone suggesting downloading a pirated copy of Agile Web Development with Rails pdf, David Heinemeier Hansson says,

I didn’t expect someone to walk into our homes and slap us in the face like this.

There is a lot to respond to in this quote, which was probably made in anger, but it reveals a flash of what makes the community work. DHH, and the other principals of the community, have a sense of pride and ownership. They care about the community

If I can build that in only of a few of the factscollector communities, I will have been wildly successful.

Update: Sept. 26th. Martin Fowler points to the general friendliness of the Ruby community as a factor in its acceptance. I’d agree. In particular, I’d draw a comparison between Ruby and Perl. If someone asks a question to comp.lang.perl.misc that has either been asked before, is well documented, or just shows that the questioner hasn’t really done their homework, they will be shot down from five directions, added to killfiles, or ignored. The leading figures of the group will be doing this.

Ask the same kind of question in the Ruby on Rails group, people will fall over themselves to answer. If someone is a little rude, or terse, in their response, they’ll apologize.

This creates a culture of openness. People have the room to ask “dumb” questions, to question how things are done, and to propose new solutions.

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