Ruby on Rails may soon become the leader in development platforms for real estate applications.

What is Ruby?

Ruby is an object-oriented interpreted scripting language created by Yukihiro Matsumoto. Since the mid 1990s, it has grown in popularity in Japan and has gained recent attention as the language behind the Rails framework. You can use the language for a striking variety of functions—from basic scripting to creating Windows applications to developing Web applications. You can start using Rails without extensive knowledge of the language; the Rails framework generates the fundamental classes needed for the Web application and uses reflection to perform object-relational mapping to the database.

What is Rails?

Rails is a Web application and persistence framework created by David Heinemeier Hansson. It includes the infrastructure you need to create database-backed Web applications that use the Model-View-Control (MVC) pattern. Rails has gained attention as a development framework that lets you rapidly create full-featured database-backed Web applications.

This new programming framework for web development actually goes beyond being a tool, it has taken on a religious following in the web application development community.  By October of 2006 1 million people had downloaded the Ruby Installer for Windows. In October of this year, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft  jumped on the bandwagon and began to hire all of the Ruby developers it can find.  It is the new framework of choice for Web 2.0 development and is replacing .NET.

The key to this development code is that web applications that formerly took months to develop can now be done in weeks.

How?  Well, I am not a software programmer, so in some way, I may be best positioned to explain it to other folks like me.

The first cool thing about this code base is that it is free!  Open source software is built on the concept that we should not all waste our time working on the same thing.  If one person writes code that allows you to EMAIL A PAGE TO A FRIEND, and it works, share it with everyone.  This allows you to build applications quickly without writing everything yourself.  It is like going to a library, picking the functionality you need, and putting it all together onto a bookshelf that becomes your application.

What Ruby on Rails is especially good at  quickly building applications that sit on top of databases (like the MLS for example).  Although Rails comes with its own application server, Oracle SQL and other leading databases are already Rails friendly and the client and database connection software is free.

Want your web application to work in a different language, great, go grab some free code, plug it in and like magic – you have Spanish, Japanese, or Korean.  In November, Polish went live, and Brazillian, Portuguese, Chinese, Czech, French, German, Norwegian and Russian are underway.

Case study – we recently worked with a company that wanted to develop a custom application.  Traditional companies offered to license their code for guarantees in the $250-$300,000 range per year.  We then looked to buy some of these companies – which were valued in the $5 Million to $10 Million range.  Then we showed the requirements document to some Ruby on Rails kids and they said that they could knock out the whole project in 4 months for under $400,000 and the client would own it.  WHAT?

The reason for this is kind of difficult to understand, but perhaps the best analogy is a waterfall.  When you are coding in this framework, and you ask the software to do something, it automatically cascades the code into all of the directories and subdirectories where it is needed.  In traditional programming, the developer needs to do this manually – and test it for bugs and errors.

By the way – Amazon is moving to Ruby on Rails and has already launched utilities that allow you to find and create ranked lists by gathering votes.  If you don’t see the list you are looking for, simply create it and rankings will start populating within a few minutes.  There are already 2,294 ranking lists holding 640,000 items.  Oh, and I almost forgot – Google is now using Ruby on Rails.

Who else uses it – mostly small to mid-sized companies right now.  The reason is political and social.  If you take a 10-20 year old software development company and tell them one day that you are going to stop building things the way you build them now – you will have a revolt, and all of your $200,000 per year developers and managers will freak out because you are asking them to retrain themselves on something they have no experience in.  And another thing, that code base that you have millions invested in and equates to a significant part of your company’s shareholder value….. well that is going out the window too!  And after you get it all built, you need to tell all of your customers that they should switch – but not to worry, you will keep maintaining the old stuff while we switch to new.

Despite all of this – Web 2.0 is here.  We are on the cusp of the second wave of the technology revolution and we are about to see a new tech bubble – ergo the billions that have been paid by Google and other companies for YouTube and other web 2.0 businesses.

Today, there are no known MLS software platforms running on Rails and no Agent or Broker website offerings running on rails.  I am amazed that more people in the industry are not talking about it, or planning for it.  The chatter is so quiet that I expect 2007 to see the launch of some exciting new businesses and a host of new companies in our industry.  Industry giants better look out!<