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On generating buzz

As is seems, my last article has left some things to be explained in more detail. Particularly, Gabor has left the following comment:

I wish people would stop blaming Perl 6 or its name on the lack of buzz around Perl. I wish people were spending that energy and time in creating more buzz.

I would like to reply to that quote by this post, since I feel that the importance of the problem has not been understood in its completeness.

The key misunderstanding here is: You can only generate buzz for something new. Let’s just make a small practical example, shall we? Let’s go to programming reddit and pick something up from the front page. How about Little known C# feature, Conditional attributes.? What do you feel when you read that article?

I can tell you what I feel: I don’t care at all. It’s nice to know that C# has that kind of attributes, but I still don’t care because of one single fact: I’m not going to programm C#. That language is out of my scope, because an immediate connection from C# to .NET to Microsoft to Windows is established and I’m a Linux/FOSS guy. Same goes for Java — however nice the newest Hibernate or JSF or jBPM or whatever might be, I’m not interested, since I try to avoid Java, because the word that I associate with Java is “restriction”1.

Same goes for Perl[56]. You can generate as much buzz about Perl as you want, but “Perl”, as I explained previously, is a brand with definitive associations, namely “ugly” and “incomprehensible”. It doesn’t even matter which version, Perl is Perl, right? So every article about some cool new technology in Perl, be it Catalyst or DBIx::Class or Net::Twitter, will be dismissed with a comment “Yeah, it’s nice, but who’d want to code Perl nowadays?”

It’s the same problem Steve Yegge pointed out in his talk which I linked to from my last article: “Java is my father’s language, I won’t use that”. Same goes for Perl — it’s an old language and usually an old language is considered crufty and inflexible, even though it’s untrue for at least Perl and Common Lisp.

So basically, buzz for old stuff doesn’t matter. New stuff can be efficiently buzzed — look at all the attention Cassandra and all other NoSQL database engines are getting. Buzzing only matters when the stuff is new, at least from one’s point of view. And here lies a problem: Perl is extremely well-known. Just like COBOL, Perl is known by the name, even though most people can’t usually tell anything useful about the language itself. Only that they wouldn’t want to program either of these languages, since they’ve heard that they are awful. So barely anyone would consider Perl a new development and therefore a common perception exists which makes all buzzing about Perl moot.

But how can we revive Perl and show the masses that it’s still alive and kicking? We’ve got several options. Educating is probably the most time-consuming and probably also the most useless method — for one reeducated person you get couple of hundreds who’ve learned Perl is ugly. Rebranding might be a good way. Writing articles for popular magazines would probably help a lot, especially if someone were to write an article introducing a totally new and powerful programming language, revealing only at the end that it’s actually has been Perl all along. Perl desperately needs new books (I’m awaiting “Modern Perl Book” eagerly) and also a lot of showcases.

But there is really no patented recipe — Perl currently sits in a self-inflicted branding trap and it’ll be a hard ride to get out2.

And Perl 6 is not helping it at all.

  1. and also “Eclipse”, but that’s another story
  2. Maybe TPF should hire a marketing/branding consultant?
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  1. July 12th, 2010 at 19:40 | #1

    »a brand with definitive associations, namely “ugly” and “incomprehensible”« you are a weirdo

  2. July 12th, 2010 at 20:55 | #2

    @Jochen: Is that meant to be a compliment? ;)

  3. Justin Davis
    July 12th, 2010 at 22:32 | #3

    I very much enjoy all of your articles and can’t help but agree with you.

  4. July 12th, 2010 at 23:09 | #4

    OK - I agree, but we’ll not change the name - I just cannot imagine a scenario where this could happen. So what is left is small steps, like adding adjectives ‘Modern Perl’ or maybe ‘The Perl Ecosystem’ (the second one would refer to CPAN and the community - the things that are really unique about Perl).One more thought - if eventually we get Perl6 that is workable (I don’t follow Perl6 too close - but from what I do hear from the project I am pretty confident that we’ll have Perl6 quite soon - with just one concern - it can be too slow for anything practical right now) - so when we finally get workable Perl6 - it can generate quite a bit of buzz just because of the whole negativity that surrounds the project. It would be a great surprise - so it has potential to change the way people think.

  5. August 25th, 2013 at 00:56 | #5

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  6. September 8th, 2014 at 22:25 | #6

    I always used too study paragraph inn news papers but now as I am a user of internet thus from now I am using net for posts, thanks to web.

  1. September 4th, 2014 at 08:56 | #1