Jeff and .NET

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February 2009 - Posts

ASP.NET MVC: The front-to-back advantage

In my current gig, I was surprised to find when I started that there were front-end and back-end developers. The front-side guys are mostly HTML, CSS and Javascript (actually, mostly jQuery) folks, while the back-end folks do all of the wiring up and heavy lifting on the server type stuff. Most of the places I've worked had developers touching everything, and if anyone was generating HTML, it was designers.

Then the big shocker came when one of the guys who was primarily front-end started messing around with the MVC framework. He already knew enough C# to be dangerous, but I was thrilled with his approach. He used MVC enough to get the various pages, er, views to show up correctly, and he was quickly cranking stuff out that any of the back-end guys could easily pick up.

I'm not sure why I didn't see it sooner, but in a shop where you have these divided responsiblities, the classic seperation of concerns translates well into real life! And probably the best part of it all is that it gets everyone excited about the framework, whlie leaving the client-side guys ready to do everything they know best, without getting in the way. It's a long way from messing with Web forms for them.

It's certainly going to be easy to do things incredibly wrong with MVC in terms of where you put code, but with a little coaching and a strong desire to push TDD, I can see a lot of potential for a new level of quality out of my team, even if some of them are a little green. I'm looking forward to the final release of MVC.

Official .NET site FAIL

It certainly isn't the first time, and some how I doubt it'll be the last. The official ASP.NET site, where I was headed to read more on MVC, is down. And it's not just down, it's down with the generic error page. You know, the one with the notes about how to set your web.config.

It's frustrating, and frankly and embarrassment to Microsoft and the community. I don't know who manages the site, but seriously, what message does it send about the platform if the sites promoting the platforms aren't high quality? I would fire people and/or hire a different company to manage it. It's totally unacceptable.

Unfortunately, .NET official sites have a long history like this. Anyone remember GotDotNet? What a train wreck that was, when it worked at all. Various incarnations of the official ASP.NET forums have had their issues too. The Silverlight site is hideous (come on, SL for the navigation?) and the forums there were sending multiple e-mail messages for reply notifications. MSDN documentation was hopelessly broken and IE-only for years.

I really think that Microsoft or its desegnate can do better.

Nine years of CoasterBuzz

As I posted earlier today, CoasterBuzz has now been around for nine years. That's a fourth of my life! In that time I've been married and divorced, owned three cars, had eight jobs, wrote a book and God knows what else. It's a long time.

In the last year or so in particular, I've had to really stop and think about what the site means to me. I'm not the hardcore roller coaster enthusiast I used to be. I think it peaked in 2001, a year where Stephanie and I went to around a dozen parks in one year. There were so many new rides being built back then.

That was also the year I committed to CoasterBuzz being a real business enterprise, largely out of necessity. In order to support the traffic to the site, I had to get a T-1 to my house at a grand a month. The ads were working until Doubleclick dropped me, and I started the club to make up the difference. And that was all while losing my job and just buying a house. That was a crazy year!

The quick success of the site I think was in part due to the relentless updating, and the site database. Back then, there were so many coaster sites, and in addition to mainstream news, we were directing people to these awesome niche resources. I miss those days, when every kid with an Internet connection wanted to build a Web site. The content was so rich back then.

The other thing that ramped us up quickly was the fact that I was advertising via GoTo.com, which later became Overture and is today Yahoo. People credit Google with the miracle of AdWords, but the business eventually folded into Yahoo was doing it much sooner. The thing I liked best is that it brought in an audience that was not cut from the usual enthusiast circles. It was less fickle, less jaded about "corporate" parks and remembered that amusement parks were fun.

The site also mirrored my own development as a developer. The first two versions were written in old ASP, the shittiest scripting platform ever. I made all of the classic mistakes back then, designed inefficient databases, etc. The transition to ASP.NET was a mixed bag that partly was sweet because the content management app I wrote was way ahead of its time, to the extent that Tim and I (both unemployed) wondered if we could market it. By the time we got new jobs we kind of let that idea go. The negative was that I still did a lot of things in a suboptimal fashion due to my lack of solid design pattern understanding.

When I think back to the last four or five years, I had a real love-hate relationship with the site. The positive was that it was essentially self-perpetuating, with users continuing to find much of the news and obviously posting in the forum. I didn't really have to do anything. Eventually I got costs under control, and last year I got the business to a point of being debt-free for the first time since I started back in 2000. That's a big deal when I consider that ad revenue was down last year.

But two things in that long time period made me hate the site too. I felt like I still had to feed and care for it often just because it had been around so long. And I just couldn't bring myself to work on a new version, and I hated the site and myself for it. There were many times where I just wanted to say screw it and let it wither and die because I lost interest.

The turning point was late 2007 when we finally got around to relaunching PointBuzz, which also went relatively unchanged for years. That was motivating because the technical achievement and simplicity showed that people would use it more even though we were offering less. The damn forum app, the core of it, had reduced the resource impact dramatically. So in the first part of last year, I was at least building a re-do up in my head as something I was ready for.

The two and a half years at Insurance.com also had a lot to do with it, because my game had been raised to epic proportions. I know I say it all of the time, but having the opportunity to work with that many top-shelf, brilliant people is rare. I appreciate that now more than ever as I mentor younger developers. I'm exceptionally better at what I do than I was three years ago. When I go laid-off in July, it was an opportunity to translate that experience into a new CB.

So in two months I rebuilt everything, around the forum I had "finished" the November before, along with the tweaks since then. I even did my own design, something I've never felt confident doing, and I liked it (reception was mixed).

Since the relaunch, my attitude toward the site has changed for the better. I no longer see it as a burden, but rather a playground of sorts to try new things. I miss the old days of bigger revenue, but with a dedicated club membership pool, it's holding steady. The quality of the conversation is reasonably high and fairly LOL-free, so it's still interesting to me.

I'm thinking it would be fun to have a big tenth anniversary bash next year, since January 30 is on a Saturday. I wonder if people would come to that, if we tried to have it at Castaway Bay or something.

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