Names And All That

The debate about the naming of Perl versions has been started by events which allegedly sprang from Ovid’s visit to FOSDEM a couple of weeks ago. The premise is that Perl lacked punch as a brand. It couldn’t get noticed.

Perl at FOSDEM

I was at FOSDEM too. I’d said some things on the London PM mailing list about how important it was, so I thought I’d better go. I took the afternoon off work and drove down to Dover with my partner and jumped on the Dunkirk ferry.

I didn’t get to any of the evening socials. We didn’t arrive in Brussels until late on Friday. I left Carol on her own to explore Brussels for all of Saturday. I didn’t think it was fair to drag her along to an evening meal with a bunch of programmers so we ate together. We had to leave at noon on Sunday to drive back to Dunkirk.

I attended about half of the Perl talks and mixed it with visits to the Mozilla, Java and MySQL development rooms. On Sunday, I helped Wendy and Liz set up the booth and hung around in case I could help in other ways. I spent about an hour chatting to Ovid, who was there to sign books.

I think it’s a myth that Perl couldn’t get noticed. The booth was one of the most charismatic ones there. We had a stuffed camel which was around four feet tall. Several people asked to have their photograph taken with it. There was a bookcase which must have been about eight feet high and contained approximately 500 different books about Perl. That fascinated people, no other booth had anything like it. The top of the bookcase was crammed with cuddly toys which had been used as Perl mascots over the years. I don’t know how many there were, but the cuddly pumpkins will have to live somewhere else.

In other words, the Perl booth grabbed people’s attention and held it long enough for us to get our message across.

The message wasn’t confused by Perl 5/6 either. There was only one presentation on Perl 6 and I don’t recall seeing any Perl 6 books for sale on our booth. (The ones in Wendy’s collection weren’t for sale.) Everybody was clear that we were talking about Perl 5.

So, no trouble getting attention and no mixed messages. I don’t understand how Ovid concluded from events at FOSDEM that an attention-getting name change is required.

Other Languages at FOSDEM

The Perl presentations were typical LPW-type things, well-delivered and interesting. The Mozilla community struck me as being a bit like Perl in that there was clearly a strong social element. It was the MySQL and Java presentations which got me thinking.

The MySQL presenters I saw introduced themselves as full-time Oracle employees. I’ve got twenty years Oracle experience and I’ve always regarded MySQL as a toy. Not any more. There are some resources being sunk into it now. A lot of resources.

One of the Java presentations was about serious, hard-headed statistical analysis of the usage of various syntax constructs in real projects. This was done with a view to identifying whether perceived weaknesses were real or not, and whether action was required.

The other presented detailed market analysis comparing Java, which is doing quite well, with Javascript, which is booming at the moment. The objective was to see if any lessons could be learned.

It was the sheer professionalism of the subject selection and the implementation which impressed me. More than that even, I’m almost sure they weren’t doing it for free. A lot of resources had been made available.


The events at FOSDEM do not support the idea that Perl needs a name change. We got plenty of attention. The problems are much deeper than that.

Events do support the idea that resources make a difference. Perl is just plain skint.

If the powers that be are serious about a name change then we should pay marketing professionals whatever it takes to get the proper research done. Chatting on IRC does not count. Nor do these blogs!

This is not a game. Jobs are at stake. We will probably only get one chance.


I think one of the problems is the "god" complex many programmers seem to have. Whether it be too look down on other programming languages, writing documentation, teaching beginnings, what operating system you use, design, etc... it all comes down to if it is not coding it is not important or needs to be bike shedded into dust. The constantly labelling of things not coding as unimportant does not make a person a better coder, it simply makes a person more ignorant of how things work.

I am reminded of Schwern's keynote last year and the slide with the ken doll "Emotions are hard, write code instead" hits the nail on the head. Programmers in general have a tendency to disregard everything that isn't code and that is a major part of the problem.

Perl is a community that has a brand image, like all other communities. We are also a community which as far as I know that does not have people who specialize in community building, brand management, recruitment, public relations, etc... all these things that other brands do to stay in the minds of the public and keep people coming back. I see constant praise heaped upon people who deliver amazing technical prowess but that is it.

On the coder side programmers can help by building things that most people will think are awesome and even the people who don't use it still think it is cool. Blog posts, and social media help get the word out on those things. At the same time Oracle has real marketing in terms of people, plans and promotions. So does PHP, Java, the .NET languages. It is not just because they are company backed, it is because someone involved knows the value of marketing and branding and constantly pushes that agenda. This is what I feel the Perl community is missing.

Most of what I have read, to me feels like a group of outsiders (people who are not trained in marketing, brands, community, and the like) trying to come up with solutions and then pitch them like they are the insiders. It is a common phenomenon in tech industry writing like people speculating what Apple, Google, MS is going to do and proposing it like it is fact instead of unsubstantiated rumour.

I agree with the above article that we need actual marketing professions and business professionals to help steer the community direction of Perl. Meaning, people get interested in Perl again, get read of the dead/dying stigma, and attract new developers.

A good and thriving programming community consists of more than just talented coders.


Thanx for both perspectives.

One thing to note is that there is so much promotion these days, people simply expect it. It can be content-free (as with 'celebrities'), or meaningful.

So, if we - as a Perl community - lack pushiness, it reflects, however unfairly, on Perl as a language.

One terribly sad thing is that people (consciously and unconsciously) become programmers to escape emotional involvement, i.e it's a symptom of psychological trauma.

Hence the (usually) personable people in marketing are in that field precisely because they are more comfortable dealing with people.

This needs to be taken into account when devising methods to promote Perl.

Thank you for this voice of reason in the big waste of time that the recent storm of talk has been.

No, it wasn't (isn't!) a waste of time.

At least not, if - by following the discussion - the powers that be realize that adding always more "use feature 'xyz'" to the perl core while maintaining backwards compatibility isn't viable any more.

We need a new release that breaks backwards compatibility to remove cruft, makes it easier for newcomers to get the most out of the language without having to jump to all these hoops or writing all that boilerplate code all over again, every time, and that especially allows for adding new features (like the MOP).

Extending the name of Perl 5 might facilitate that and at the same time stir interest in the development with people outside the community.

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About Duncan

user-pic I blog about Perl.