Ruby Thankful

A lot has been made in the talkosphere recently about the brewing "multi-Ruby version manager" war, namely RVM vs newcomer rbenv. I'm not here to discuss the relative merits of either software solution, mostly because I take things pretty simple and straightforward in command-line world and I've never run into problems with RVM. What I do think this little fracas displays, though, is a common thread in the Ruby community of having big, blown-up controversies when new things come along. In some ways, I think that such drama is one of the unique features of the Ruby community that make it so vibrant. It's also a feature of the community that can lead to community casualties.

RVM vs. rbenv, Test::Unit vs. RSpec, HAML vs. ERB, Rails vs. Merb, Coffeescript vs. Javascript, Mongrel vs. Thin vs. Passenger vs. Unicorn, Cucumber vs. Steak, and the list goes on. It seems like the Ruby community has a habit of drawing battle lines every month or so. Why do these "fights" come up so frequently in our community? More importantly, what do they mean for the overall health of the community?

Today we're launching a little site called RubyThankful. It's barebones at the moment and open source, but what it represents is hopefully a way to find some positivity in the Ruby community.

Background: Passionate Programmers

I would argue that controversy breaks out on a regular basis in the Ruby community because, more than any other community in which I've participated, Rubyists are singularly driven to use not just good-enough tools but ideal tools. Ruby is a community of chaotic reinvention, a community that will jump off a cliff just to try out a new brand of parachute. It's that passion that draws me to the community, that makes me feel like the things that I do matter. It's also that passion that can cut to the bone.

People are inevitably going to form opinions about what they think is the best in a field of competing libraries/tools/products. This competition in the commercial marketplace is what drives high quality and low prices, and in the open source world it's what drives reinvention and continual progress. If a library isn't pushing its users forward, those users can and will seek out a different library that better meets their needs. This is natural and generally beneficial.

What isn't maybe so beneficial is the "what have you done for me lately" attitude that can come with our pursuit of the perfect development process. It's altogether too easy to write about reasons why "Y is better than X" while forgetting about the fact that before that, X was so much better than nothing at all.

Casualties of Harsh Reality

As I began to write this post I saw Steve Klabnik's We Forget That Open Source is Made of People. It'll be hard not to re-iterate many of his well-reasoned thoughts here, so I want to give him credit for making a point that needs to be made. I was also amazed to come against this controversy just one day after I wrote a post that included the sentence "Harsh words can sometimes be enough to completely dissolve the creator's interest in continuing the project." We've lost amazing members of this community because rather than respecting their contributions we tear them down when something marginally better comes along. This is the dark side of passion.

I like some tools better than others. I've even written blog posts debating the merits of one approach over another and declaring one superior for my purposes. I've been guilty of jumping onto new technologies and giving nary a thought to the old way of doing things. I don't think it's possible to stop this community from being obsessed with the new and different, and I don't think that's what needs to happen. What needs to happen is that our community needs to get better at raising our voice in something other than protest. We need to temper our enthusiasm for the new enough to at least be civil to the hard-working people who created the tools we used until oh-so-recently.

I'm as guilty as anyone of this. Short of trying to say "thanks" in person to the creators and maintainers of the tools I use every day when I see them at conferences, I don't take much time to thank people for the amazing things they've done to make this community what it is. This all sounds sappy and somewhat inefficient, but I think it's a vital piece of maintaining a healthy community.

Ruby Thankful

I almost wrote this just as a blog post to say "hey, let's be more positive and thankful." I was just about to post it when I realized I could do at least a little bit more than that. So I built an almost-nothing-to-it site that can serve as a public forum for the Ruby community's gratitude for those who work hard to make it what it is. Just tweet something with the #rubythankful hashtag and it'll get picked up. Maybe it's someone you're thanking for a library, or their blog post or tutorial that helped you out, maybe it's something else. If you're thankful for the Ruby community and the members of it, let's put some voice out there!

This community has given me a lot in the last four years, and I've done my best to give back. But I haven't always been thankful enough to the individuals who create the things that I use every day. Hopefully RubyThankful is a small way to encourage that to change.