Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The more things change...

... the more you have to run to keep up.

So after many days of working through all the intricacies of what is admittedly a simple problem, I've got my prototype app up and running... and it does what it's supposed to do. That feels great.

However, I just learned that I'm already behind the times. AjaxScaffold, the UI plugin that I am using is "no longer supported" and the replacement -- ActiveScaffold -- is in RC1 status. And that doesn't feel quite so great.

This is obviously a problem with working on a platform that has not yet matured and is undergoing great growth & change. Sure, it's nice to have neat new things that do more, better, faster for you: that's a major element of progress. But we're surely going to have to deal with consolidation at some point in the future when all these nice, new features, extensions, plugins... prove their mettle (or not) and we settle down to the tried and true packages that really work.

Don't get me wrong: I am very happy with AjaxScaffold and with the support that the author, Richard White gave me. And I'll probably move up to ActiveScaffold at some point, depending on the added features and their importance to me. On the one hand, it's nice to have options; on the other, sometimes there are just too many options.

Reminds me of the description of how a hive of bees organizes themselves to have the greatest chance of finding the best nectar supply available (See The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki). The hive sends out lots of bees ('foragers' they're called) to scout the area. As they find a nectar source, they come back to the hive and do a 'waggle dance', which somehow expresses the desirability of the nectar source that bee has found. The better the waggle dance, the more bees follow the forager to the source. According to Surowiecki (who quotes Thomas Seeley, author of The Wisdom of the Hive): "... a typical bee colony can search six or more kilometers from the hive, and if there is a flower patch within two kilometers of the hive, the bees have a better-than-half chance of finding it." Pretty impressive for 'dumb' insects.

Seems to me we're in the early stages of searching for great Rails enhancements; there are lots of 'foragers' out there, doing their best to develop the next indispensable package, and whoever does the best 'waggle dance' and collects the most followers, wins.

In many ways, that's the beauty of open source software. Just don't count on every bee finding the best nectar source for you... and be prepared to change when necessary.

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