Change the World — One Program at a Time

This is a very late comment about Pycon2007.

At that conference one Ruby/Rails book author said something like; “I really like the vibe here. Everybody here is talking about making a difference, educating third world children, building better communities, and making the world a better place.” And he was setting this as a stark contrast to his experience of RailsConf where “everybody was talking about how much money they made.”

On one level it’s hard to fault the Rails conf people for this. Money does on some level validate what they’ve been doing, and it isgood to feel that kind of validation.

But, I think it’s fair to say that the Rails people have been too focused on proving something, and that has lead to a perception that many rails folks have a chip on their shoulder, or are totally focused on money as a metric of success. The extent that some elements in the Rails community have embraced this perception (as mentioned on Martin Fowler’s recent blog posting), is actually a bit frighting.

So, I think Chad is doing exactly the right thing by encouraging the Rails community to take a look at how they can improve their image. A couple days ago Chad posted a blog entry entitled “Change the world” and I hope that it makes an impact in the Rails community. I definitely see Chad Fowler many of the other members of the Rails community that I know personally as good guys, and I’d like to see the current negative stereotyping of the rails community come to an end.

I’d like to see the Rails community as a whole step up to the plate, and focus their attention and marketing efforts on new projects with altruistic goals. Turn the whold Buzz machine towards something that will really change people’s lives — replacing Java just isn’t a worthwhile goal when compared with helping to feed hungry people.

So, in the hope that a little good natured competition can spur things forward, I’d just like to mention that I think the Python community is beating the pants off of the rails community in the change the world department. Here are a couple of projects that I could think of off of the top of my head which the Python community is working on:

  • Irrepressible.info — which is focused on fighting censorship
  • the OLPC project — which aims to bring better educational materials to millions of underprivileged childeren around the world
  • the Open Planning Project – which aims to provide tools for grass roots community improvement tools.

On another note, over the last 6 months or so Compound Thinking has been been working for Philantech on a project called PhilanTrack which takes a slightly different tack. The goal of the Philantrack project is to make it easier to manage the process of giving, receiving and reporting on grants.

The idea is that “greasing the wheels” of grant giving, and allowing non-profit organizations to focus more on doing the work, will make the nonprofits more efficient, more fun, and ultimately make the world a better place.

We may not think about it, but we geeks have a lot of individual power, and collectively we really can make the world a better place. If you’re working on a Rails or Python app that can change the world for the better, drop a comment here and let us all know.

3 Responses to “Change the World — One Program at a Time”


  1. I am starting to make a web site where people can show and find places that have been or will be impacted by man’s careless behavior. I am looking for tools to help me develop this. This is an after-work pet project, and I’ve never done any web sites before, so it is a bit slow-going. I started out in PHP following the examples in “Google Maps Applications with PHP and AJAX”. I’m stuck now on how to incorporate a forum into the site. Also, the site has no database (except for user logins, which is incomplete), just writes to a file for persistence, and doesn’t work in IE because some characters in one of the posts breaks the XML parser. Any suggestions about how to proceed? Should I switch to Rails or Python? Should I use bbPress for the forum? Any comments are welcome.

  2. For simple programs I think PHP is a good choice, for more complicated software I think that things like TurboGears (python) or Rails (ruby) have a lot of advantages. So, depending on how much stuff you feel like you need to add to the application, you may or may not want to switch.

    If you do decide to switch to TurboGears or Rails, I’m actually teaching an online distributed web development class that focuses on the web front end stuff, but uses TurboGears as the back end.

    If you want to join the class, we might be able to make software for your project into one of the class exersizes, since the whole reason I’m offering the class is to help people “give back.”

    The class is free, you just have to promise to give back to the community in some way.

  3. Thanks. I think I’ll stick with PHP for now because it’s supported by my web host, and I’ll try bbPress for the forum. The list of TurboGear hosts at http://docs.turbogears.org/1.0/Hosting kind of scared me away from TurboGears, especially the comment about ServerPronto.

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