And suddenly, you're hip
Addition: I've made a more detailed list of event ideas.
This Perl marketing thing you know.. I'm really thinking about it every day. I've always wondered how those mechanism of "being THE it-language" or "the tool the cool kids use these days" or "success" in terms of "spreading everywhere" really works.
I've started with Linux in 1995 in Germany and I remember for example how the increasing database support on Linux was celebrated ".. and now XY is available under Linux" and how the success of Linux went hand in hand with the raising success of the Internet and the Web of course. Those were fascinating times.
Over the years I've done something else but Perl but then I went back at a point when I felt "Web is cool again" - and then I had to realize that PHP basically took over the Web. Bad. That's abolutely not what I wanted to spend my time on - coding PHP. So of course I had to notice Ruby.
And this is where things get really interesting. (Yes, this posting HAS a point.;)
As with iPhones and Macs, the recognition and publicity and the influence of Ruby doesn't really say _anything_ about the REAL numbers of users, installation bases, hosts, projects and so on which actually use it. The iPhone isn't the highest sold smartphone. A Mac isn't the most often bought computer. Ruby is on the rise - but it's not the most commonly used language - not even in Web context.
None the less: It surely feels that way.
(If you can't really relate to the stylish side of marketing, you might have a better feel for how the selling of Java as THE enterprise thing did work and how much influence it gained - there is really no denying in its success along the enterprise lines. )
So, (and here's the first point of the posting ;) recently I've noticed that Vim "somehow" (and that will be the real point of this posting ;) became the new hip shiny programming editor.
Sure, Vim is around for a long time, it's quite common and everyone using it (like me) basically every since it existed suddenly wakes up and thinks "Err, yeah well of course Vim is a really nice programming editor, man - why do you think we use it?!" - but there's more to it.
I see (especially in 2010) the following things popping up all over our tiny world of Internet folks:
- Screencasts how to use Vim. Often Mac users make them so they really look nice - and it really doesn't matter wether I personally think if a screencast of something you type makes any sense at all - it sells and people love it and really watch those things.
- More documentation for beginners. Often written in a style taking the unixoid, hardcore user background out of Vim and selling it as the new "you just have to use this" thing. Nicely styled, not too long, but also not too short and certainly in a different style than the usal university computer science lab Vim short reference you find everywhere ever since people had to learn Vi.
- Selling the steep learning curve as something what earns you Rockstar- and Ninja-credit in your community (I'm assuming you're familiar with all this Rockstar/Ninja meme...)
- Leading to an image of Vim basically saying: "Sorry mate if you don't know Vim - that's really not cool." (We old beards (me: bitches) to paraphrase Zed Shaw sold it as "It's basic knowledge, because you might need it if you administrate some Unix somewhere..") While many people might be sold via the pragmatic notion of "It's a useful thing to know, you'll encounter it in plenty of your upcoming professional scenarios", others drool like Pavlov's dog when it comes to the cool and hip of things.
- On top of that, plenty of confessional blog postings along the lines of "How I abandoned TextMate and learned to love Vim" popped up and again sold Vim as OMGWTFHOWCOOLISTHISSHIT. Somehow, Vim gets you laid these days - that's basically the overall message.
- The "tone of voice" is totally different when it comes to the new shiny tutorials selling Vim - you'll find a more casual, more playful style of documentation, but you'll also find plenty of subtle (and not so subtle) phrases making YOU - the user - the Rockstar and Ninja (and where btw is A NICE HIP FEMALE PHRASE I COULD PRINT ON A SHIRT? ;) if he just learns one more of those weird Vim commands.
- This leads to more themes (think: Perl REPL with colors - sure as hell pretty cool), more plugins (Perl certainly covered that via CPAN ;), more user-centered plugins which in itself leads to more recognition, more influence and more publicity, because people post, write and screencast about those extensions of the new it-editor all over again - all in a voice of "You can have this cool shit, too - just use Vim." (Noone cares wether Emacs can do X or Y even longer, better and with a better integration at this point, btw...)
- All this stuff is published on central hubs of users and programmers - Hackernews, Reddit, influential blogs, twittered, younameit.
So, what does this tell us in the Perl community?
- "We" don't really do screencasts. Pragmatically "we" think it's not really useful to make a movie of something you type in. WRONG.
- "We" don't make us Ninjas or Rockstars - we still have the notion of "Monks". You might think this is stupid - on a cultural level you're basically comparing living the boheme with celebacy - guess what speaks to
- "We" don't really sell Perl as OMGCOOLSHIT. "We" argue pragmatically about power, environment, stability, backwards compatibility, CPAN and so on. "We" don't have buttons with I ♥CPAN or make a CPAN movie.
- "We" don't get mentioned anywhere anymore. I've disabled all my Perl related blogs/news stuff for a while and read only "meta" blogs (Web, Programming and so on) - "we" are literally invisible to the bigger public, not matter how much CPAN grows and no matter how much #perl is the biggest IRC channel on freenode.
- "We" aren't googable.
- "We" don't spread in public. We open one relatively closed community thing after another which makes it convenient to get ALL of the Perl related stuff - but the central hubs we create don't spread. So it's a "all or nothing" thing with Perl.
- "We" don't make a cool event out of every single piece of code we're writing - we don't have events like "The Perl Newbie Doc Writing Week" or the "Perl Weekend Module Improvement Contest" or the "Worldwide Perl Website Cleanup Month" or anything like it. We have so much really really really cool shit - I'm amazed every week by certain projects and modules - and we keep it to ourselves. WHAT GOOD IS OWNING A PICASSO (ok, a PORSCHE ;) IF YOU DONT SHOW IT OFF? ;)
- "We" don't sell our amazing range of CPAN modules as cool shit. We tend to argue that Execel modules are a powerful thing and are really stable and support plenty of Excel tasks - we don't do Perl along the lines of "Man, take this boredom out of converting stuff to Excel by using this cool amazing Excel module from CPAN - you also get 4 steak knives for free" and add a satirical screencast on top with the developer dressed as in one of those weird tv selling shows.
So, the lesson I learned in 2010: Becoming the new it-girl err editor/tools/language has absolutely nothing to do with how you look like today - it's all about how you present yourself.
Noone in his/her right mind for example would consider Vim's builtin scripting language as something "nice" or "elegant" or would think that Vim has "ease of use" (though there is a concept of usability behind vi - and it surely has nothing to do with onMouseOvers...) - we all know it for its power and flexibility.
As we do Perl.
Oh, and if you think I'm totally crazy: Then please watch the rise of Erlang thanks to CouchDB. (I mean ERLANG?! Hello?! :) Have you taken a look into "Learn you some Erlang for great good" with this cute-cutsy drawing? Same for "Learn you a Haskell for great good" (Even more HELLO?! ;)