Forgbook Progress Report

As you can see, there has not been any Forgbook updates for quite some time (a month), despite my resolve to post some. This is for a few reasons, some more interesting than others.

The least interesting is that I’m back at university, which doesn’t leave me quite as much time to work on things, though I’ve been giving what time I can.

More interestingly, I’ve recently stumbled across Pinax, a very smart extension of the Django application framework that offers a bunch of links to reusable Django applications, allowing the user to create the generic skeleton of a web site in a single line, along the lines of pinax-admin setup_project mysite. This provides you with a standard project layout and a collection of full-featured¬†applications for basic capabilities such as user account management, notifications and wikis. Succinctly enough, “Pinax takes care of the things that many sites have in common so you can focus on what makes your site different”.

So I’ve been working on developing a reusable application for activity management within the Pinax environment, and have actually made considerable progress. It’s currently in a usable state where activities can be created, edited, viewed, deleted, completed (various amounts), paused, cancelled, and scored, and these operations propagate through the activity hierarchy. Relatively more advanced features such as categories, tagging, friendships, messaging, commenting, and email notifications are not implemented, but the beautiful thing is that reusable Pinax apps for these tasks exist already, and it should just be a matter of plugging them in with a little configuration. More Forgbook-specific features such as privileges and JavaScript-driven views will take a bit of work, but really Forgbook can function quite happily without them.

Having made that progress, I turned to investigating where such an application could be deployed and hosted so I could start testing it as a legitimate user. The traditional option is just to host all the files on a regular Web server, and connect the Python framework via WSGI. This is not going to be compatible with my current host NearlyFreeSpeech however, because of the rather idiosyncratic nature of their shared hosting setup. Furthermore, a basic Pinax project by itself typically sits in a virtual environment and weighs in at about 50MB, making it unwieldy to just copy, paste and host.

There are a few other options, but I was attracted to Google App Engine, because it’s Google (<3), and it’s pretty much free until the application gets particularly popular. The trouble is that the database used at the backend is a non-relational database, which is a new-fangled way of saying it’s not compatible with every other database. As such, Django is very difficult to support, and Pinax is even more divergent. There are few attempts at workarounds (django-nonrel seemingly the most promising), but it’s otherwise developer hell even attempting to monkey-patch the systems together.

Those remaining options then are a little more pricey but seem as though they will take most of the pain out of Django hosting. There are a few start-ups (Gondor, and Djangy, all in private beta) specialising in Django hosting which I’m keeping an eye on, as well as a few hosts that are friendly to Django, such as WebFaction (detailed as supporting Pinax too).

Currently the plan is to wait until a couple more of these are available (hopefully sneak into a beta or two) and see what cheap options can be had. In the meantime, development will continue, though maybe not as rapidly with uni in full swing. There are few other interesting¬†activities¬†and possibilities in the air as well, but I’ll discuss those a little later.

In summary, Forgbook is alive and well and even usable, but can’t really come out and show off until it finds a home. Hopefully that won’t be too far away.