Urbis.com, written completely in Ruby using the open source framework Ruby on Rails, is yet another social networking site, but with a twist: it was created by a writer, for writers. Urbis.com founder Steve Spurgat is not a developer, but he knew right from the start he wanted his Web site to run on open source software. "I'm drawn to the community around it."
Urbis.com is more niche-oriented than social networking sites like Myspace, Facebook, or even LinkedIn. Members upload their writing to be read and reviewed by other writers on the site, but before they can read reviews of their own work, they must earn credits by reviewing others' writing. This makes these credits a valuable form of currency, and virtually guarantees a hive of activity. Each creative work is ranked in a number of different searchable criteria, and Spurgat says publishers can and do search for the best writing in every genre, making the site a draw for writers eager to get their work published.
Spurgat had never worked with open source software before he started designing Urbis.com. In fact, he's an actor, director, and producer as well as a writer. Yet, he knew early on he would use OSS. "I asked the developers I was working with in the beginning what was the best. We started working with Ruby before the first version was even deployed. Ruby is a very rapid development environment and it is very good for bottom-up applications like Urbis.com, where we started with a core idea and we continue to build on top of that and make adjustments based on trial and error. It's just faster: one line of code in Ruby equals 10 lines of code in PHP."
Spurgat says he's heard of some scalability concerns with Ruby, but "Twitter sort of addressed all of those for the rest of us," he says. "One challenge has been getting developers. There's such a high demand for Ruby developers right now. I have some really great ones, though. The type of developers who choose to do Ruby -- well, you're getting a better developer because of the way those guys think. They're really smart and they're passionate people about the code and the project. You don't see that as much with .Net or Java guys. Passion is important."
Spurgat has plans to expand Urbis.com to include audio and video capabilities. He's also planning to move into art review, fashion, film, and performance. "The core of our business is the feedback and our ability to acquire data about anything. Some of the biggest media companies will be licensing our technology. There isn't anyone doing what we're doing."