Indicators of the Ruby on Rails trend

Here’s a fascinating market indicator. I was looking for a Ruby book on Amazon, something for lightweight coders, perhaps a beginner’s guide to Ruby on Rails. What did I find? I found a total of 23 books. 9 of them are hitting the shelves within weeks. All of the others were published within the last 6 months.

Here’s a sampling of what’s coming out soon:

The blogosphere saw the Ruby on Rails thing coming a while back. Now the book publishers see it, too, and they’re all racing to get a piece of the action.

There are other interesting indicators like the fact that Dreamhost offers it preinstalled as part of its hosting package. And you can’t ignore the recent adoption of Agile project management which feeds nicely into the Rails approach, even sharing language and concepts at the same level of abstraction.

Yesterday, I asked Jeremy Zawodny how his experiments with Ruby on Rails are going, so far. He replied,

“It’s frighteningly productive.”

I wonder if the venture and acquisition machines out there will learn how to plug into this market architecture. In 1999, startups did the Sand Hill march using PowerPoint as their weapon of choice. The right buzzwords in the right order and charts pointing high and to the right put many on the IPO course before engineers had been hired.

Investors today are looking for working ideas with real customers.

There’s a perfect storm forming.

Scaffolding web sites with Ruby on Rails

I started messing around with Ruby on Rails for the first time on Sunday. This was after spending all day Saturday tearing down kitchen cupboards, tiled sinks and entire walls for a friend who is remodeling his house, so I got my fill of building last weekend whether real or virtual.

Photo: bruce grant

Trying to figure out how Ruby on Rails worked, I felt like I was remodeling my brain. It was as if I walked into Ikea with just a basic idea of what I wanted my new kitchen to look like and then walked out with design schematics and new appliances an hour later. I suddenly had confidence that I could create a really nice web site with a lot of functionality that was basically inaccessible to me before because of my limited programming background.

The “Ah hah!” moment came for me when I added two words to one of the scripts: “scaffold mydatabase”. When I refreshed my web site, I was adding, editing and deleting data in my database via a web interface. It all automatically just worked. Then literally 15 minutes later I had 2 databases talking to eachother.

It’s mindblowing how much power this environment gives to people who aren’t true coders.

I have a feeling I’ll get stuck and frustrated with what I’m trying to build. But I’m very hopeful Ruby on Rails will get me closer than I could with open source PHP tools. If nothing else, I’ll get a sense for this new trend.

Programming seems to have about a 3 year fashion cycle that also intersects with influxes of new ideas for web applications and a full cycle of students coming out of university. Now we’re at the early stages of a creative explosion on the Internet enabled by things like Rails, open APIs, storage solutions like S3, and JSON. And you can also wrap an idea in any number of different business models in even less time than it takes to build the product itself.

Maybe instead of LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP), we now have RASH (Rails, APIs, S3, Hosted).

There must be similar reactions to breakthroughs in the construction industry when things like cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) hit the market. Of course, construction suffers from bad naming as much as any other trade. Not everything can be as cool as a sawzall or funny pipe.