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Alias (5735)

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Journal of Alias (5735)

Monday July 27, 2009
09:25 PM

So bad at promotion that we don't know what we don't know

[ #39360 ]

If one thing stands out from recent discussions on The Perl Renaissance (the whole set of modern/enlightened/marketing blog posts) it's that we don't properly recognise that we are so unskilled at promotion that we don't know what we don't know about the subject.

We throw around words like "Modern" and "Enlightened" and "Directory of Marketing" because they are the best we can do, because we don't know how to name things well.

We discuss the competition for mindshare as if our users are an Economist's mythical "Rational Consumer" and only care about release schedules, and we grasp at ideas like paying people to take a role, with no grounding for knowing if that type of role is what is needed.

I'm just as bad, but I at least try to remember how little I know about most thing. My websites are either ultra-minimalist, intentionally devoid of style, or aim for the simpler is better look (which is about the best I can do when I don't have a real designer to draw source material from).

Perhaps I'm fortunate to have spent some time working for one of the world's best design companies (or more specifically, the Australian "Amnesia Solutions" office before they were bought and aggregated into the larger entity). At the time I didn't even have enough knowledge about design to recognise that they were good, I've only come to realise that years later.

But, I can say that I've spent enough time working side by side with "real designers" and promotion people that I've gained at least the knowledge of how truly bad I am at design and promotion.

This isn't a problem that we (the mirror ball crew) can solve ourself, and the sooner we acknowledge that the better. I certain have nothing much to say on the subject, other than to say how little I know about the subject.

Like other giant Open Problems, often the solution is not to try to solve the problem at all. Especially when you can't throw money at the problem.

Often the solution is to acknowledge you have a problem, build a suitable collaborative space for solving the problem, be inviting to outsiders or fringe members of the community that have the knowledge you need, and then do the best you can within the collaborative space to partly solve the problem until you can recruit even better people.

And at each step, you (as the community leader with no domain knowledge) deal with the tools to make sure that the output of every hour of work from the People Who Know is captured, reused and recycled.

That the work for the community is held by the community, so when your rare and valued knowledge giants run out of the time to help you and move on, you can safely stand on their shoulders.

This is pretty much the exact process that was used to solve the Perl on Windows Problem, and it's the approach that is being used to solve the Perl IDE Problem.

So I propose the following. If your blog is not stunningly beautiful, you don't get a say in how we solve our PR issues. If you don't have a blog, or engage in other forms of promotional work, you don't get a say.

You don't contribute to the solution in any useful way, so you don't count.

What you can do though, is run infrastructure. Even if the web people left for PHP, Perl still holds on to it's core community of sysadmins.

The existence of the DOZENS of websites, mirror networks, databases, automated testing infrastructure, analysis sites, forums and search engines is testament to our ability to build and run infrastructure better than most of our competitors.

So lets stop this bumbling conversation and do what we do best. Lets build and run the infrastructure so that the real people able to solve the problem. So people like Phillip Smith (and others with competant design skills) can have the support they need to solve these issues with as little process overheads as possible. of effort.

I'm happy to step up and put my server where my mouth is.

As a starting point, I'll be creating a new sub-repository off of specifically for the collective storage of design materials, should you be generous enough to donate any.

My little repository management tool is simple enough that it should serve as a useful basis for design-type people to run it themselves (even if it's ugly, but I'm willing to work on that and it is templatable...).

If anyone has design material they would like to contribute, just say the word and I'll set up an account for you. I'm happy to take any contributions you wish to give.

File formats for commercial tools are welcome. The design world is still largely run on commercial tools and we need to be willing to deal with and accept that.

When someone comes along with something better than my infrastructure (I'm fully aware svn is not entirely ideal for large amounts of binary data) I'll happily stand aside and let that better thing be the place to store material.

Update: As my first contribution to making Perl better looking, the Padre team has chosen the Blue Morpho Butterfly as it's logo, and I've added the initial 16 x 16 pixel application icon for it.

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    • I think I better write down my idea.

      Take one of the web sites related to the Perl community and send out a call to the Open Source Web Designers [] to create a design for it. Hopefully you get several suggestions. You pick one. You go.

      You get a nice custom made site.
      The designer gets a site that is (or will be) seen by many people and is linked to his site promoting him/her.

      We can start with the the one [].

  • We throw around words like "Modern" and "Enlightened" and "Directory of Marketing" because they are the best we can do, because we don't know how to name things well.

    IMHO, "we" throw around these terms because they have positive connotations with no denotations -- i.e. they are standard marketing claptrap. If you have a specific idea for how you want Perl to change, you christen it "Good Perl" or something, then repeat that term endlessly. One of these days, after I decide what I want Perl to become, I'll

    • [They] are standard marketing claptrap.

      I don't speak for any "we" but the editorial we, but I like the term "Modern Perl" because I like pointing to well-written code which takes advantage of the CPAN and community idioms and features added to Perl in the past decade to solve problems elegantly and maintainably and having a concise, memorable term to use to distinguish it from bad code poorly thrown together with no sense of design, little understanding of Perl's strengths and weaknesses, and no intent fo

      • Ignoring the marketing claptrap comments, my only criticism of "Englightened" and "Modern" are that as an adjective they aren't self-evident.

        Modern Bride Magazine? OK, I can see what that might be, even though I'm not a bride.

        Modern Perl? Without knowing Perl already, it's not something that says much.

        • Without knowing Perl already, it's not something that says much.

          I'm not sure any adjective would be self-evident to people unfamiliar with Perl. I suppose we could characterize them by Perl 5 release version number, but that has obvious flaws. We could use "circa 1999" or "circa 2004" to describe the code, but that's clunky.

          "Modern" and "enlightened" and "Renaissance" all connote visible differences between eras. That's an interesting convergence around a narrative metaphor: effective and elegant Perl

      • I don't particularly care what other people use as a name, whether Enlightened or Modern or Maintainable or Good or whatever.

        Try "chromatic's," or "strict and warnings and Moose," or (I guess) "rakudo." My point, which seems to have sadly been lost, is that "meaningless-positive-adjective Perl" is standard marketing bullshit, and implicitly assumes that your audience is a pack of semi-morons. It's no better than "Enterprise Perl Bean Solutions." Please don't do that.

        • I don't see it as "meaningless-positive-adjective" perl, so much as "memorable-succinct-suggestive-adjective" perl.

          A "name" has to serve a lot of purposes.  If it is too long and unmemorable (strict and warnings and Moose Perl) it is not a name but a description.  The name does *not* have to be the description, it just has to be suggestive enough that, once someone learns the description the name will an easy to remember tag that quickly reminds them of the description.  It also is a bug adva
          • The name does *not* have to be the description, it just has to be suggestive enough that, once someone learns the description the name will an easy to remember tag that quickly reminds them of the description.

            Agreed. But to retain some credibility, the name should be both descriptive and value-neutral. "Extreme Programming" and "Waterfall Programming" both succeed because they describe the relevant processes without claiming that they are either good or bad. "Perl" and "Linux" do as well, to some extent

      • > I don't speak for any "we" but the editorial

        He means the words (plural), not the people

  • For those that would like to read a bit about marketing I would recommend Made to stick []. It is a great guide about how to create marketing messages. It is built around a comprehensive list that I copy here, but it is really worth reading the whole book.
    • Simple
    • Undexpected
    • Concrete
    • Credible
    • Emotional
    • Story

    For the explanation see excerpts [].

  • You make a good point. But you also seem to be confusing design with marketing - they are not one and the same thing. I know they are related, but just because someone has an eye for visual design does not mean they automatically make a good candidate for marketing perl. That said, it is also clear that many of the key perl-related websites look shockingly amateur-ish (look at the state of this place!) and would benefit from some quality design input.
    • Yeah - marketing is a broader term than advertising. It is not only about communicating - it is also defining the audience - i.e. finding the market for the product, finding out where it can be the most useful.
  • So lets stop this bumbling conversation and do what we do best.

    No. How's that for a clear-cut response? :)

    If you don't want to participate in understanding the perception issue, or if you think this has no value, or if you think you already know the answers, that's OK. I realize plenty of people have one (or more) of those opinions. You don't have to help if you don't want to, but please don't tell others not to try.

    • > If you don't want to participate in understanding the perception issue.

      Whether I want to participate or not is irrelevant. When Gabor started Padre he didn't say "I want to participate in making an great IDE". He simply wanted a great IDE, and he knew that to achieve that he needed to recruit people better than him at producing what he wanted.

      Go watch his talk. His attitude there is what has made him such a good project leader for Padre. []

      What he is doing ther

      • OK, now I better understand what you're saying. However, what I'm saying is that we need information and we're the domain experts in the problems we're trying to solve. I also have said several times that we're not qualified to do the actual research. We're qualified to figure out our own goals and contribute expert knowledge on what we might need to make those goals happen. I thought I made that clear a few times, particularly when I wrote []:

        I doubt many of us are experts in market research but maybe someone is and is willing to volunteer services? Maybe we can team up with another open-source group to facilitate this? Maybe we can find a university teaching marketing and propose an interesting research project and domain expertise? Do we have contacts for any of this?

        I've done enough research into this to know that it's unlikely

  • By the way, I realize that my answer might have sounded harsh, even with the smiley. I really, really value the things you've done for the Perl community (remember when people were telling you that you were wasting your time trying to parse Perl?). I just want to try a different approach. I concede that it might fail, but I promise not to take too much of the community down with me :)

  • Great conversation here. Glad that people are willing to engage in it thoughtfully. (Many thanks to Alias for the conversation starter.)

    @ educated_foo []: The reality is that people are using Ruby, and Rails, for more than just scripting up "shiny-looking web page with minimal effort." (I'll concede the point about DHH's hair.) They're using it for all kinds of crazy stuff, like writing desktop applications and large-scale messaging services like Twitter. (All things that Perl can do equally well.)

    Regardless, I

    Keeping technology simple since 2003
    • > I've heard it argued that the Perl community doesn't really want an avalanche of new people -- signal-to-noise and all that garbage.

      Really? Who? Where? I'll go and smack them in the face.

      > However, if we want to see those showcase sites, and applications, running Perl

      And the scary thing is, we do run those sites.

      IMDB, Amazon, Yahoo, DoubleClick, LiveJournal, The BBC, the... er... world's biggest... um... porn site (YouPorn).

      > It's the marketing "claptrap," it's the shiny-looking Web sites...


      • I think we could use some good blogs on marketing and visual vs. functional design, etc. A website dedicated to grinding this particular ax would welcome. Articles in a well read online publication would be excellent. Ignorance can be cured.

        Some of what needs to be done, may appear as simple window dressing. But a consistent style guide and resources for building Perl websites that would like to use it would be great.

        There are a lot of unorganized efforts out there. Things like making it easier to install

    • Desktop applications? I haven't seen any yet (I don't count web apps), so can you point me in the right direction?

      AFAIK, Twitter is just a shiny web app that throws a lot of servers at a problem. Other than the web interface, it seems like the whole thing could be done with text files and a UDP server. Rails actually seems like a terrible fit for what Twitter is doing; it seems better suited for the simple, low-traffic web interfaces that most small businesses want than for a high-traffic buffered mess

      • I expect Perl 6 will fail because it's not directed at an actual problem....

        361 problems Perl 6 addresses (non-exhaustive list) []

        • Just to take one example, "the AUTOLOAD subroutine should be able to decline a request" may be a shortcoming of the Perl language, and may annoy some Perl programmers, but it's not a "problem" in the sense I intended. "I need to offer my company's widgets for sale on the web" is a problem. "I need to convert this UniProt file to FASTA" is a problem. If you design a programming language while thinking about programming languages, you get Scheme.

  • As much as I think a more a uniform style and message would be great for Perl, I also think that releasing and marketing an application that non-Perl people would find cool and useful could do as much to fix Perl's image problem as anything else.

    After using this fictional application, a user might see that it is written in Perl and think "Hey, I didn't know that Perl can do that". They might then look at the source code and think, "Hey, this isn't the same ugly Perl that I remember from the mid 90s."

    A good