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Quick Interview with Martin Sadler of WorkingWithRails.com

by Obie Fernandez on Jan 16, 2007 |

WorkingWithRails.com (WWR) is the largest directory of people involved with Rails on the web and a real success story for its creator, Martin Sadler. InfoQ asks him about the site and its effect on the community, and about challenges he's faced in its development...

InfoQ: What is your personal background (or professional connection to) RoR?

Martin: I've worked in web application development for over 10 years and accumulated a broad range of experience with many different languages, frameworks and methodologies.

I was impressed from the outset when I discovered Ruby on Rails. I feel that it's been a breath of fresh air for the industry and certainly the best framework I've worked with. I have been using it for almost two years now and I haven't looked back. Professionally I'm in a privileged position where I use Rails pretty much full time at my role as Software Engineer at DSC.

We use Ruby on Rails for the majority of our projects, ranging from business information reporting systems, document management, specialized integrations and social web sites like WWR.

InfoQ: What was your original motivation for WWR? How did you come up with the idea? Have those ideas evolved with the success of the site?

Martin: The original motivation came from our frequent use of Rails and the desire to give something back that the community as a whole could benefit from.

As a regular user of the Rails Wiki I saw several data-streams that were limited in their current format but combined into a more structured form could be very powerful. So after a bit of experimentation I put two and two together and saw the potential for Working With Rails. As the site has grown I've taken more comments on board and am actively improving and streamlining the site all the time.

InfoQ: How do you see WWR affecting the RoR community at large? Any worries?

Martin: WWR is now the largest directory of people involved with Rails on the web. It's been fantastic to see people from all over the world using the site. In creating it I hoped to provide some cohesion for the Rails community, an opportunity to network, discover who's who, and a platform to demonstrate just how well used and influential ROR is becoming.

In the long term I'd like to see it continue to connect people, expose new developers and provide a focal point for people who want to find out who's working on what. The concern, if any, is trying to meet the needs of such a diverse community of developers - some people love ratings, others hate them, some people like privacy, some people like to share absolutely everything.

It leads to debate in many cases - but this can be good as it helps shape the future direction of the site. That's why it's great to get feedback: we can gauge the general consensus and make sure that we are on the right track.

InfoQ: What's been the greatest technical challenge? Other challenges?

Martin: The beauty of Ruby on Rails is that more often than not you aren't faced with major technical challenges. This allows you to concentrate on the business logic of the application.

In the case of Working With Rails it meant I could focus on exactly what I wanted the application to do and not worry so much about the implementation.

However that's not to say there haven't been a few challenges. The chart functionality was one such exception with some very specific SQL having to be coded to ensure that we didn't chew up processor time.

Also what with Rails still being quite new I'm often left hunting around blogs and the API docs to find the specifics of a particular piece of functionality or best usage. This is something else that WWR might help to address in the future.

InfoQ: How much traffic is WWR generating?

Martin: Typically in a month we are seeing around 20k visits . The vast majority of the high profile members of the Rails community now have an account and we are currently averaging at around 30 new accounts a day.

Also the site is now pretty well indexed by the likes of Google so a lot of the incoming traffic tends to be for somebody searching for a developers name or company.

InfoQ: What's this hackfest about?

Martin: It's a great incentive to get people actively involved with the development of Rails itself.

At the start of the year Jeremy Kemper (of the Rails core) dropped me a line asking if we would like to collaborate on the Hackfest that they were putting together. After several email exchanges I quickly got to work and within a relatively short time we had the new charts up and running.

The main benefit is that the contributors get recognition for their hard work. This not only comes in the form of a prize but also from the publicity they get by being in the charts.

Beforehand you might have had to dig around Trac tickets or have stumbled upon the developers blog both of which might not have happened. Now there is an outlet with WWR. That's really important to encourage and nurture the growth of Rails.

In the long run we'd love the contribution charts to be a more permanent fixture at WWR with sponsors and regular contests and the like.

Q: What can we expect in the future from WWR?

Martin: WWR will continue to evolve and grow. In the short term we'll be adding some personalisation features such as individual recommendation feeds - for direct inclusion into your own blog. There will also be a whole host of improvements ranging from updated charts, community moderation, usability tweaks and much more.

Looking to the future I want the site to continue to be a useful and up to date resource for the Rails community. We've got many ideas of our own and we continue to welcome feedback. It's really important that WWR is responsive to new ideas, so that people using the site play a part in its development.

Going further forward still we have got some really exciting features planned that I've certainly not seen anywhere else or on any other social network so keep your eyes peeled.

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