At the Forge - Book Roundup

Read a good book about Web development lately? Reuven has and is happy to share his latest favorites with you.
Social Networking

Facebook, LinkedIn and other social-networking sites are all the rage, and I even have looked at some aspects of these sites in this column.

If you're interested in creating your own social-networking site, two books might be of interest to you. The first, RailsSpace, written by Michael Hartl and Aurelius Prochazka (ISBN 978-0321480798), describes how to create a simple social site with users, friends and Ajax-based blogs. The source code to RailsSpace has been made available, so you can use the code to build your own, real-world site, rather than merely go through the tutorials. Even better, one of the authors (Hartl) has founded an open-source project called Insoshi (, which offers a downloadable framework for creating social networking sites.

A second book on the subject, Practical Rails Social Networking Sites, by Alan Bradburne (ISBN 978-1590598412), is a bit more ambitious in the projects it aims to do, showing examples not only of users and friendship links, but also of e-mail, discussion forums, a photo gallery, user-created themes and a mobile interface. The code from this book is used to power the RailsCoders site (, and it similarly can be downloaded and used to power a real-world site.

No matter what toolkit you use, or whether you decide to create a social site on your own, you should consider the wider implications of what you are doing. Designing for the Social Web, by Joshua Porter (ISBN 978-0321534927), is one of the most interesting books I've read on the subject to date, and it's full of practical advice on how people participate in a site. A slightly less practical, but no less interesting book is Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody (ISBN 978-1594201530). His analysis of the social Web, and how groups are now collaborating before they fully know each other and define themselves, is full of interesting anecdotes, but also cautionary tales about what the designers of such sites should consider when deploying.


Perhaps the printing press is going the way of the dodo bird. But for the time being, there are plenty of books that I find not only useful and interesting, but also essential as I go about my daily life as a developer and consultant. If you have read a particularly interesting and useful book you think I should know about, please send me e-mail. I am always happy to learn about new, high-quality books, and if it turns out to be particularly useful, I'll be happy to share it with other readers of this column.

Reuven M. Lerner, a longtime Web/database developer and consultant, is a PhD candidate in learning sciences at Northwestern University, studying on-line learning communities. He recently returned (with his wife and three children) to their home in Modi'in, Israel, after four years in the Chicago area.



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