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.
  • It leads to competitions and contests sold as "events" basically. You might already know those "1k JavaScript" competitions or "Hack this web app on a weekend" contests and the like - Vim recently got its own competition with a shiny hipster website: "Real vim ninjas count every keystroke" (I'm not making this up.) Please also notice the improved, polished Vim-Logo in the upper left corner.

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.
  • In September, a european JavaScript conference took place in Berlin, where I live. It was sold out 3 months before. It took place in a nice and shiny location. It had a really nice website. The video quality... Perl conferences take place in university buildings. Meh.
  • "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?! ;)

See here: and


> The video quality...

This is so true. In the past i watched some screencasts of Perl events and quickly gave up because the sound seemed to have been picked up with a mic that was 30m from the person talking and pointing away from them.

OK - so I did a screencast recently - but got virtually no feedback about it: Experiments in Inheritance - a screencast Maybe it is a really lousy screencast - but I don't even know what I did wrong. Maybe it is a too advanced topic for a screencast.

By the way it is without sound - I am not too comfortable with my English - but I used the 'type what you want to say - then delete' trick - I think it can be a good substitute.

As a Perl-illiterate, I can very much attest to the social and even the emotional power of hipness when choosing a technology to learn and experiment with. And, even such a retrospective post (which I found on Hacker News btw :) is much better than not addressing the wider audience.

To prove the point, this post actually nudged me to up the TODO priority of the Camel Book that has been traveling with me a few continents and sitting in my bookshelf unattended for a some years now.

Keep up the good work.

P.S. Is there a newcomer-friendly Perl community and/or event in Berlin?

Regarding screencasts at Perl events: It would be great to have some presentation recording devices like the ETH Zurich has ( ). They recorded the talks at FrOSCamp ( ). But these devices are very expensive. In Berlin there is a Perlmongers group that has a social meeting each month (dates see ). I know some of them and I think all Perlmongers are happy to welcome new Perl users/programmers.

As to "Ninjas or Rockstars" - I don't know. Connecting to our internal narcisism is sure an effective advertising strategy - but does maturity have no value at all?

Ad. 'spreading in public' - another idea is to blog from time to time about some more universal, language independent subject. Yesterday I submitted autarch's post Config Versus Code blog post to reddit/programming and it does quite well there.

I guess that for people outside of Perl (like me), Perl is just a scripting language for times when you either want to write something for a golf competition or need to quickly script a box that doesn't have python or ruby on it.

It's a language that everyone's heard of, and that everyone can write, but that noone wants to for various reasons. For me it's probably the perception that it's not current, and that its tendency to be terse may lead to writing the incomprehensible code that its known for.

Also, I've never heard of CPAN, despite writing various things in Perl.

Maybe a bit more advertising and talking about why you'd want to use Perl over a more modern language would go a long way – I can't say I've ever consider starting a project in Perl.

I've been subconsciously noticing these things but it didn't really click until you spelled it out like this. Your post is a must read for any project managers or developers that want to attract community.

I guess what we're seeing is the rise of ad hoc marketing in FOSS. I thank (or blame?) Ubuntu for popularizing the notion of image and marketing in FOSS, they were able to take great advantage of appeal to design and aesthetics and such and were the first to really force it to the front.

Hip or un-hip, ChargeSmart loves perl - developers looking for work at a San Francisco based funded payments start-up should email me their details, pmikal [at]

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About Su-Shee

user-pic I ♥ Perl.