Rails and Hype

Yoav Shapira wonders about the “rails backlash”:
http://yoavs.blogspot.com/2008/02/railsshudder.html

I’m a big fan of Rails, and of course I realize that it has some flaws and is certainly not the optimal choice for all situations, but I don’t buy into the bashing.

Sure, Rails was hyped, but there is no way that it could have possible reached the level of popularity it has on hype alone. We’re not talking about multi-million dollar marketing budgets commanded by the likes of Sun or Microsoft, but about a video and some nice dressings by DHH and 37signals. A small group like that just doesn’t have the resources to push something like Rails as far as it’s gone without some substance to back it up.

Look at all the imitation. People realize that the basic idea is good, and even though the basic idea is nothing phenomenal, it hadn’t really been done before. What is this idea? Take a bunch of components, and good (if not always the absolute best) practices, and integrate them nicely. Database, templating, testing, a clean application structure, ajax/javascript integration, with some code generation, all done with a language that’s flexible enough to do all of the above pretty well. All those things existed, but Rails did a great job of tying them all together. And that’s been imitated far and wide. That seems to indicate that, even though the imitators may change and improve bits and pieces, they’re quite smitten with the idea itself. So much that they’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort to reproduce it. That’s quite a tribute.

Look at the adoption. Moving to a new language/platform is a big step, not one to be taken lightly, and for people with lots of existing code in some other language, perhaps simply not possible. Hype will take things only so far, but Rails has been taken up by a large number of people who certainly didn’t do so because it was the safe, easy path to take. Perhaps some of those people have found that Rails really wasn’t for them, but that’s pretty normal. No one said it was perfect. However, when you look at what it takes to make people jump ship from what they know, and are comfortable with, you realize that it really must have been that much better to make people go out on a limb.

Furthermore, it’s easy to point out the failings and drawbacks of something after the fact, but much more difficult to do creative, innovative work of your own. Compounding that is the fact that criticizing others’ work is often an easy and effective way of looking smart; there’s an interesting study referenced here http://bobsutton.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/08/brilliant_but_c.html that talks about this effect.

It’s something I’ve come to dislike over the years. Our field is so new, so dynamic, and so immature, that it’s usually pretty easy to take a look at something and say that it “sucks”. It is much harder to write something of your own and put it out there, knowing full well that lots of people who have never done much of anything will jump on it and bemoan its “copious failings”. That’s not to say that it’s impolite to criticize, but – do it constructively please. Imagine that you were there in the same room, talking to the person who wrote the code in question. You would still say you don’t like it, but you’d probably be much more polite and helpful in your commentary. I hope so, at least.

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