Mechanical

Perl On Rails

Since I work for the BBC, I've had some people ask me about the "Perl On Rails" project and I've not said much. Now I have.
  • Current Mood: cheerful cheerful
Tags: , ,
I heard someone at work mention something about Perl on Rails, but assumed it was some sort of Ruby gag. Ah well.

So, you feeling better now?
I've had so much time off lately I can barely remember the place ;) I'm due back in next week, but only for 6 days or so, them off until 2008. Once in the new year I might have to turn up a bit more regularly as I'll have no holiday time left.
There may be room for all sorts of technical improvements at the Beeb, but I can say that, as a daily end-user of a wide variety of BBC news & info websites as part of my research work, I don't think it "fails at the internet" even slightly.
Thank you! Frankly, I think we do a fantastic job, too.

We still have the problem that we work under severe constraints. Some constraints are legal (accessibility is mandated, which is good) and some are technological (outside vendors limit the technologies we can deploy, which is bad). Also, there are apparently legal requirements limiting our "distortion the market". I don't know too much about this, yet, so I can't really say much about it other than Parliament has apparently passed laws which have changed how we do business. I'll see if I can learn more later.

Before reading that post I was going to ask a question here, but what you wrote obviated the question to begin with.

So your post talks not about Perl on Rails, but instead on "Why the BBC succeeds on Blogs". That's interesting (and good), but do you care to comment at all about Perl on Rails?
Frankly, I'm disappointed at the corner we were backed into which made our developers feel they needed to go to this extreme. See Why the BBC Fails at the Internet for more information about this. It really sounds like the team in question did a heroic job to work around the constraints they were faced with, but the constraints themselves are sad.

To be fair, not all of the blame should be laid at the feet of Siemens (as many readers might assume), but rather than worry about who's to blame regarding these problems, we're trying to focus on fixing them.
Glad to hear you're feeling better.

I think "Perl on Rails" suffers from what really draws people to RoR: Alliteration. If it had been called, say, "Perl in Pails", people would be eating it up.
Nobody does it like the beeb
I've read the piece by Seb, and your reply. It leaves a few questions in my mind.

I don't work for a news org, nor do I work in media, but I do have about ten years of experience in developing web apps for a global audience (my app has about 100k users, supports 9 languages, and is globally load-balanced across 6 datacentres on 4 continents).

Though you may not be able to judge, can you tell me how unique you believe the BBC's requirements to be as it regards web apps? How different is this likely to be from the requirements for CNN, ABC, etc?

From the external evidence (that is, from using the bbc.co.uk site) I don't see much more than a broad, deep content site, with limited deployment of media streams. Is this a terrible oversimplification?

Does Siemens do any development on BBC websites, or are they strictly operational?
Re: Nobody does it like the beeb
Well, I can't comment about CNN, ABC, etc., as I've not worked for them, but the BBC has extremely stringent legal requirements regarding accessibility. So naturally iPlayer has subtitles. www.bbc.co.uk works just fine for blind people with screen readers (try viewing source one some pages and look for the word "accessibility"). This means we can't rush things out and think we'll get around to accessibility later (this isn't necessarily true for beta apps).

Of course, we also have strong mandates to serve the public and not business or government needs, facilitate learning, be innovative, etc. In short, we have to try new things all the time. It's not just fun, it's required.

Add to this the fact that we're one of the most heavily trafficked web sites and you see that we do have an unusual situation that we have to just work, take risks, and maintain our up time. In fact, when the London 7/11 bombings happened, the Web site was experiencing peak traffic of 40,000 hits per second. Plenty of Web sites would be happy to have that in a week. That's a pretty neat trick to turn, I think.

As for Siemens, as far as I understand it, they are just operational. Any development they might do is security patches for code, but since I've never seen any of those patches (and I've not talked to anyone else who has), I don't know if they're any good or not. They don't do any Web development as far as I'm aware.