How I Built CaptainObvio.us

Captain Obvio.us - a place to share ideasI made a tiny splash on Hacker News a month ago when I asked for feedback on my newest side project, CaptainObvio.us – a simple portal for sharing ideas and soliciting feedback from a community of peers. The idea was popular and I’ve received a ton of feedback – I’ve implemented most of the Hacker News community’s suggestions but haven’t had the chance to do another round of customer development.

What I wanted to share in this blog post was some of the secret sauce I used for creating CaptainObvio.us – I originally created it mostly to learn MongoDB, and learned way more than that along the way.

Webstack: ASP.NET MVC3 on AppHarbor

I used ASP.NET MVC3 as my webstack of choice with AppHarbor as my hosting platform. ASP.NET MVC3 is a massive improvement over MVC2, and I took advantage of Razor syntax, the built-in support for DI (dependency injection) on controllers, and wrote a number of customized helpers to do things like create an action filter for Twitter @Anywhere.

AppHarbor has been a great experience to work with - I use Git for souce control for most of my personal projects like this one so deployments are a breeze on AppHarbor, but the other major reason I picked AppHarbor is that it shares the same Amazon AWS datacenter as MongoHQ - another [Thing]-as-a-Service that I used for hosting my MongoDB instance.

Data: MongoDB on MongoHQ

The original purpose of CaptainObvio.us was for me to learn MongoDB, a schemaless (NoSQL) document database written in C++ that is becoming all the rage in the Ruby on Rails universe. CaptainObvio.us is a good fit for Mongo given that the vast majority of its content consists of simple documents with a small amount of relational data for tying authors to ideas / comments and so forth.

I could not have gotten very far with MongoDB in C# were it not for the NoRM Project MongoDB drivers for C# - NoRM's drivers are much better than the default MongoDB drivers for C# and work similarly to LINQ-to-SQL (although not exactly.) It was a matter of hours for me to go from installing Mongo to having a functional site running with NoRM and ASP.NET MVC3.

Authentication: Originally Twitter @Anywhere; Sign-in-with-Twitter and Hammock Later

Twitter @Anywhere is a fairly new JavaScript-only framework for integrating Twitter into existing websites quickly and effortlessly - it automates all of the OAuth workflow, comes with tons of useful built-in widgets, and eliminates the need to write much (if any) plumbing needed to support Twitter integration.

This is all nice in theory but if you're building a site like CaptainObvious where your users use Twitter to sign-in and leave behind persistent data in your own data store, then this framework can really cause problems. I had to gut Twitter @Anywhere eventually because the post-authentication event hook would misfire on occasion due to issues on the client and thus I would have an "authorized" user running around adding comments and voting despite no record of them existing in the database.

In order to resolve the issue, I dumped Twitter @Anywhere and went with traditional Sign-in-with-Twitter powered by Hammock, which works fine.

Final Thoughts

I'm going to continue working on CaptainObvio.us, although I put it off largely due to all of the work I had to do engineering XAPFest's online presence on Windows Azure. If the project taught me anything, it's the value of continuous integration environments like AppHarbor and the ease with which you can get something up and running quickly with MongoDB.

I'd highly recommend checking out AppHarbor, MongoHQ, and the NoRM drivers if you're a .NET developer who's new to Mongo and wants to learn how to use it. I guarantee you that you'll appreciate traditional .NET databases like SQL Server 2008 and SQL Azure a lot better after you've worked with Mongo, as it'll help you learn the strengths and weakness of each respesctive platform.

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I'm the CTO and co-founder of Petabridge, where I'm making distributed programming for .NET developers easy by working on Akka.NET and Helios.

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