Thursday, June 21, 2007

Powerset on Rails

Like a lot of folks, I've been curious about Powerset, the company promising to revolutionize search via natural language queries. I got an interesting email from them today. Here's an excerpt. All emphasis (bolds and italics) is from the original email:

I'm happy to announce that we are, in fact, launching our front-end on Ruby.

Cool, huh? For everyone's sanity (and in avoidance of some of the flame wars to ensue), do note that we are going to be using Ruby (the language) but not necessarily Ruby on Rails (the web framework).

Why Ruby?

1. We've already got the brains

2. Ruby is already being used throughout the company

3. We're not worried about scaling

This is obviously an unusual broadcast. Do most potential users of Powerset care what programming language its front-end is written in? So why send out this email. It all comes down to reason #3. We're not worried about scaling. Heh heh.

Why all the fuss? Rails can scale, right? The email goes on to outline how they've talked to the Twitter guys who told them not to worry about the problems they had and go for Ruby. They also explain how their system is simpler and they won't have the same problems that Twitter had.

This is just too funny. Basically they have a bunch of Ruby developers (see reasons #1 and #2) who want to do the front-end in Ruby. I'll go as far as to guess they really want to do it using Rails, but they haven't been able to win that argument yet (hence the disclaimer about it.) Yet, their management is so uncomfortable with this that they had to go and do a broadcast email apologizing-- err I mean explaining why it's ok for them to use Ruby.

I can't imagine a worse endorsement about a language than this! Seriously, if they had decided to write their front end in Java, PHP, C#, Perl, Python, etc. would they have felt the need to publicly defend their decision? Are they going to send out emails about their choices of databases, operating systems, web servers, etc.? I think not.

It's a sad day for Powerset, but an even sadder day for Ruby and Rails.


Kevin Clark said...

You've got it backwards dude, all the way through. As Rubyists we're specifically _not_ pushing Rails. How does the frontend to a search engine fit into an MVC model exactly? We're fully supportive of Ruby. We explain ourselves as part of the _rest_ of the post. We as a company are interested in contributing back to the community as much as the individual employees (myself and others) already have.

siqi's house of vanity said...

I also work at Powerset - and believe me, we're not that kind of company. None of us would be working here if it were.

Michael said...

@kevin -- So I can assume that since you are "specifically not pushing Rails" then you guys won't be using it? The email sent out seemed to try to calm any fears of problems that Rails could cause, so if you aren't using Rails, then why not just say so?

As for MVC... It doesn't matter if you are providing search or whatever. The M in MVC != database records. As the Rails guys often point out, Rails != Active Record. MVC is a UI paradigm, and it can be used for anything. For a search application, an obvious Model would be the search text entered, along with any extra criteria that can be used to filter the search, plus the search operation that returns search results. There's nothing special about being the front-end to a search engine. MVC can fit you, too.

Michael said...

@siqi -- And exactly what is "that kind of company"? What do you think the purpose of this broadcast email was? As I said in the original post, if you guys had decided to write the front-end in PHP (for example) do you think you would have sent out an email explaining that?