APR: First Prototype Almost Done

The first prototype is almost done – I just need to add a couple presentation elements (listing articles by date submitted, highest scoring). When I get the site up (I still need to read how to use Capistrano to deploy a Rails site), we’ll open it up for a few people to start playing with it.

Goals of This Prototype

There are a few goals of releasing this prototype into the wild (in a restricted way to a handful of volunteers):

  1. See what I can accomplish in a week with the language (while learning the language and tools).
  2. Get the earliest possible valuable first version out there. The minimal functionality of value is done (submit, rate, browse articles).
  3. Begin getting feedback on interface design / work flow / layout. Use that feedback to prioritize refactoring with the next pieces of functionality.
  4. Start getting some great articles into the site.

What is Done So Far

The prototype is functional – it has the following:

  • User signup, login, logout, authentication, optional “remember me” cookie support
  • Passwords are encrypted in the db (but I believe still transmitted insecurely like many sites, no SSL / https yet)
  • Users can rate articles on a 1-5 scale, and the article will have a score that is the average of all logged ratings.
  • Login/Logout happens in the sidebar from whatever page you’re on. Signup takes you to a separate page.
  • Anyone can view the article listings (and ratings) as well as individual article pages. Submitting and editing articles requires you to be logged in.
  • Articles can be categorized by six predefined categories. Each article can be in multiple categories (or none at all).
  • Articles are tagged as being either Beginner or Expert articles.

Things that will be updated before it goes live

  • I don’t think you have to be logged in to rate an article – it might even throw an error if you are not.
  • Currently, the main page lists articles in order of creation. Needs to be reverse order (e.g. Latest Articles)
  • Need to add “Top Rated Articles” view as well
  • A couple minor tweaks to the CSS – really not doing anything heavy yet – just making it “less ugly”, not trying to make it “look good”

Things that won’t be updated before it goes live

  • Any registered user can edit an article (the title, link, abstract, beginner/expert rating). Unlike wikipedia, we don’t have versions to roll-back, so someone malicious could trash an article and we would lose the info forever.
  • I suspect that any user can rate an article (logged in or not), and people can rate articles multiple times.
  • A host of bugs that I haven’t found yet.

Contact For Access

If you want to be able to review the prototype when it goes live, please comment on this article. Include your email address (which is only visible to me), and desired loginID. Once the prototype is set up, I will create a user account for you with temporary passwords, and email you to let you know when and where you should be able to hit the site.

Only the first 10 people will get accounts now.  Why?  Because the site has very limited functionality, and is hideously ugly.  If 100 people form a first impression from this, it won’t be a very good thing.  With each iteration, we will improve usability, appearance, and performance as needed while adding functionality.  We will also add some more users with each iteration, and open it up for everyone as soon as we have enough quality and functionality.

So only ask for an account now if your goal is to make suggestions that come from playing with it, and find the inevitable bugs that must be there.  This is a prototype, not even close to an “alpha release.”

If all goes well, the prototype should be up tomorrow, in time for our second anniversary.

6 thoughts on “APR: First Prototype Almost Done

  1. Confirmed that you can not rate an article if you are not logged in. There’s a bug in that it takes you to a login page, and after you log in you get an error (when it attempts to record your rating). If you go back to the main page of the site, you are logged in at this point. Won’t make any changes to the prototype for this piece.

  2. Hey Aaron, thanks very much for the support!

    I haven’t been tracking specifically, but over the past two weeks, it is somewhere around 80 hours. Half of that time has been trying to learn ruby and rails – mostly reading books and web articles / forums.

    I’m finally starting to develop some efficiency on the coding front – for a while it was “have idea. read for an hour. write one line of code. repeat.” Still very slow, but less slow than 4 days ago.

    I really want to get the prototype out there so I can get feedback and iterate. So that keeps me moving as fast as I can (but makes the time spent in pure learning mode feel “expensive”).

  3. Hi Scott — I’ve been following this project with great interest and would be really interested in looking at the prototype. If there’s still acccounts left, set me up as jefflash. Thanks!

  4. Thanks guys. As a quick update – deployment is exceptionally painful. I’ve been developing with rails 1.2.3/ruby 1.8.6, but my host has rails 1.1.6/ruby 1.8.4. I’m trying to roll back my local version now and refactor the code (some stuff is not supported in 1.1.6) so I can attempt to redeploy.

    In short – I can deploy changes to the server, but can’t
    1) force creation of the production db
    2) get the app to run in production mode

    in a nutshell, doesn’t start.

    still working on it – was late into the night last night, and may spend tomorrow on it too. cross your fingers for me – i’ve been having issues that aren’t “googleable” (effectively), so maybe getting a matched environment with my host will help.

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