Fall Rumble Shakes Out Harvest of Applications

Last weekend, September 7 and 8, Viget Labs entered two teams in the Rails Rumble, a 48-hour grueling marathon of web application development. In those 48 hours, each team had to design, develop, and successfully deploy a web application built in Ruby on Rails. Both Ben's team and my team finished the race, creating a beautiful interface for using IRC from the web and a social calendaring system. Exercises like this are chances to stretch your creativity and they present a unique opportunity to learn. Lessons learned while under stress -- "in the trench," one might say -- are lessons kept a long time. I learned several interesting things while completing Clubhouse.

  • The Triangle area of North Carolina is really heating up for quality web development. We had Ben working as a solo team, and my team was made up of three members from some of the highest-caliber web companies in the area. It was amazing to see how three people from different work environments were able to achieve a high level of cohesion in one weekend. Our shared vocabulary of web standards, Agile development, and simplicity in design didn't hurt. The Triangle also produced a brilliant new take on Digg, a document collaboration system, and a way to find restaurant recommendations from your friends.
  • Rails is moving very quickly towards a 2.0 release. Even over the weekend, as we developed, the code base changed. There are so many good things in Edge Rails right now to take advantage of.
  • Confronted with such a time limit, our team looked for options to lay out web pages without spending a lot of time tweaking CSS to work with every browser. I had not used the Yahoo! User Interface CSS tools before; but, after using them for a weekend, I can fully recommend their CSS for grids. It is, frankly, amazing in its cross-browser support for complicated grid-based layouts.
  • One thing I found that the Rails community needs, though, is a way to point out the highest quality plugins. When it came time to add tagging and pagination to my application, I was presented with myriad options. Options are good; but, a way to find the pros and cons of each option is better.
  • Writing software truly is a multi-faceted process. Having a project manager, a designer, and a developer on my team helped us out. Those three perspectives let us describe the elephant we were groping for in the dark with much more accuracy.
  • With that said, a sharp focus and a small group can greatly heighten the chance of success. Out of about 150 teams that entered the Rumble, 92 completed a functioning, useful application. That is a tremendous success rate! Many of those teams are going on to try to turn their application into a start-up. The limit on team size -- four people -- is, I believe, directly responsible for the ability to make quick decisions and keep application requirements focused and simple.

Of course, we were fueled all weekend by the promise of fabulous prizes (and a championship belt.) If you have a chance, feel free to check out Viget's entries into the Rumble, Irksome and Clubhouse, as well as the other fabulous entries, and vote!

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