Snow Dogs R Us a rails based social networking site
Posted by Jim Morris on Thu May 31 12:59:01 -0700 2007
I have started a new project for myself and a few friends, Snow Dogs R Us. This site just went live! (on 6/20/2007). It is a full blown Web2.0 (insert other buzz words here), social networking site for Snow Dogs and their (human) parents.
It is certainly a challenging project and taking much longer than I anticipated.
The basic features include sign-up, forgot password, login, optional profiles for the user and their snow dogs, and all the usual stuff there.
The advanced features include linking to friends for both the humans and the pets, so the humans can link to other human friends, and the pets can link to their friends too (Ala MySpace and Facebook etc). I want to eventually have a LinkedIn type of network as well, so you can see how many degrees you are away from other people, this is a real challenge to do in Rails, and I will probably actually write a Java engine to do that, as it is pretty compute and memory intensive. (Its not really an essential feature of the site, but I like technical challenges).
Of course there will be the ability to comment on everything, rate everything and tag everything, and there has to be the obligatory Mashup with Flickr and YouTube for all those cute photos and videos of our pets. (What other Web2.0 feature have I missed?).
Luckily the Rails community has already made available a lot of plugins we can use. I currently use these plugins...
active_scaffold- for the admin interface
acts_as_taggable_on_steroids- for the tagging
haml- For all my HTML structure needs
test_spec_on_rails- a better way to test
acts_as_commentable- pretty basic comments
cssformbuilder- highly customized, I need to make my mods available
restful_authentication- for authentication, I added the forgot password hack slightly modified
transactional_migrations- Ideal for Postgresql
acts_as_rated- I started using acts as rateable but switched
calendar_date_select- for inputting dates
sexy_migrations- Makes migrations so much easier
will_paginate- For paginating those pages
attachment_fu- For uploading the pictures (and FreeImage and ImageScience for scaling them)
I looked at
but it was so close to what I had already done I just decided to keep
my version, plus I want to add that degrees of freedom stuff later on.
There have been many posts about the friendships links in Rails, some decided to simply have a HABTM with two entries to make the link symmetric, I don't like wasting space so my solution uses a single entry for their friendship, and some SQL to find friends regardless of whether they invited you or you invited them. I'll blog about that later when I optimize it a bit more, as friendship links can grow exponentially I think it is prime candidate for optimization both in the amount of space is uses in the database and for database access, and simple has_many :through construct work but in this case will be very inefficient.
Another feature is the ability to create events and invite everyone or just your friends (think evite for dogs), this is relatively simple except keeping track of the invitations and who accepted etc. I also link to Places, because an event is usually at a place, and of course the place needs to have directions, so a link to Google maps is in order there. Of course a place needs to be taggable and commentable and rateable.
Lastly is the ability to make recommendations. In the dog community we
share advice on Vets, food, dog friendly places to visit like
restaurants, parks, beaches etc. These all need to be taggable,
rateable and commentable and of course searchable. I've gone back and
forth on how to implement that, right now it is a simple table called
inputs (user input), which is taggable, commentable, and rateable. It
relies on people tagging properly, IE tag with restaurant for dog
friendly restaurants, and vet for vet recommendations etc. I
originally had a
input_type with predefined categories,
but decided to trust the user and just allow tags. We'll see how that
works. Maybe the tag input field needs to auto_complete with a list of
current tags so people are more inclined to tag with already used
My biggest problem is the web design or look and feel, I am a programmer not a designer, so I can solve the complex programming issues and implement all the functionality, but I get really stuck when I try to figure out how to present that information. If this was a "for pay" project I would hire a web designer, but it is definitely a not-for-profit project so I can't afford that, so I'll struggle with the design.
I'll post more entries on some of my solutions to the technical problems as I go.
A few things I have learned, is to use piston for managing plugins, and avoid alpha plugins :)