Arthur Arthur - 1 month ago 14
SQL Question

Would MongoDB be a good idea for a social network site (developed in Ruby on Rails)?

my project (in Ruby on Rails 3) is to develop a "social network" site with the following features:

  • Users can be friends. It's mutual friendships; not asymetric like Twitter.

  • Users can publish links, to share them. Friends of a user can see what this user has shared.

  • Friends can comment on those shared links.

So basically we have Users, Links, and Comments, and all that is connected. An interesting thing in social networks is that the User table has kind of a many-to-many relation with itself.

I think I can handle that level of complexity with SQL and RoR.

My question is: would it be a good idea to use MongoDB (or CouchDB) for such a site?

To be honest, I think the answer is no. MongoDB doesn't seem to fit really well with many-to-many relationships. I can't think of a good MongoDB way to implement the friendship relationships. And I've read that Diaspora started with MongoDB but then switched back to classic SQL.

But some articles on the web defend MongoDB for social networks, and above all I want to make a well-informed decision, and not miss a really cool aspect of MongoDB that would change my life.

Also, I've heard about graph DB, which are probably great, but they really seem too young to me, and I don't know how they'd fit with RoR (and not mentioning heroku).

So, am I missing something?




I like MongoDB and use it a lot, but I am of the opinion that if you are dealing with relational data, you should use the right tool for it. We have relational databases for that. Mongo and Couch are document stores.

Mongo has a serious disadvantage if you are going to be maintaining a lot of inter-document links. Writes are only guaranteed to be atomic for one document. So you could have inconsistent updates for relations if you are not careful with your schema.

The good thing about MongoDB is that it is very good at scaling. You can shard and create replica sets. Foursquare currently uses MongoDB and it has been working pretty well for them. MongoDB also does map-reduce and has decent geospatial integration. The team that develops MongoDB is excellent, and I live in NY where they are based and have met them. You probably are not going to have scaling issues though I would think starting out.

As far as Diaspora switching... I would not want to follow anything they are doing :)

Your comment about graph dbs is interesting though. I would probably not use a graph DB as my primary DB either, but when dealing with relationships, you can do amazing things with them. In fact usually the demo the guys from graph DB companies will give you is extracting relationship knowledge from a social network. However, there is nothing preventing you from playing with these in the future for network analysis.

In conclusion, when you are starting out here, you are not running into the problems of massive scale yet, and are probably limited on time and money. Keep in mind that even Facebook does not use just one technology, they have basically expanded to NoSQL for certain functionality (like Facebook messaging). There is nothing stopping you in the future from using say Mongo and gridFS for handling image uploads or geo-location etc. It is good to grow as your needs change. I think your gut feeling that you have an SQL app here is right, and the benefits gained with MongoDB would not be realized for a while.