Tonight's was Chicago.pm's Dynamic Language Hootenanny, which, despite the cheesy name, was actually a very good showing of some of the features of Perl vs. Python vs. Ruby. Thanks again to Chris McAvoy for presenting and to Andy Lester for bringing the idea to life.
As far as the languages go, I think that I pretty much get the differences between the three. One really likes white space, two really don't like sigils (at least, that's what they claim though I swear I saw the @ poking its ugly head around in Ruby), and all three really make PHP look like the piece of sh!t that it is
So, of all of the talk, there are four things that stood out to me:
1) Ruby and Python don't have a Perlmonks.
Sure, they don't have a CPAN either, but they have the inkling of a CPAN, which is just enough to keep frustrated coders from turning away from the languages. The surprising comment was that ruby-monks and python-monks probably wouldn't work anyway. From Ruby and Python coders perspectives, the cultures just don't allow for something like that to work. I don't really do Python or Ruby, so I'd love to hear if this is true or false and why.
2) Perl doesn't have an interactive interpreter
Yes, it sounds lame... why not just 'perl -de 0' and be done with it. I'll tell you why. 'perl -de 0' is clunky. It just doesn't look as good as 'irb' or 'python'. Would 'alias iperl="perl -de 0"' do the trick. Probably not, but it's close and relatively free. Still, there is no pure interactive interpreter that ships with Perl that I know of.
3) There is nothing new in Perl.
Perl has been around. It has matured. If you need it, whatever it is, it is probably on CPAN. The intention of the presentation tonight was to show an example of an Enigma Machine in Perl, Python and Ruby. Chris had a little trouble with examples in all of the languages, but lo-and-behold, there is an Enigma Machine already on CPAN.
What does this mean? It means that a Perl coder can pretty much just grab pre-built modules and create feature-rich programs with little challenge. What else does this mean? It means that the barrier to entry to being an acknowledged contributing member to the Perl community is higher than that in many other languages. Create a new Ruby templating system? Amazing! Create a new Perl templating system? Add it to the list.
It is very possible that the richness of Perl is actually causing people to develop in other languages because it is easier to be a recognized figure in a burgeoning community. Mature code might be causing smart coders to go to other languages because it is easier to impress their communities than it is to impress a CPAN-worn Perl coder.
This could be good or bad. Possibly the best stick around and make Perl even better. Possibly the best leave and create a Perl equivalent in yet another syntax, adding little to the art of programming. It seems like we are at an interesting time in the evolution of Perl where it is mature enough to be taken seriously by those that we could care less about and yet is too mature to be fun and rewarding to contribute to.
4) Perl is web 1.0
Okay, so this one was one of the comments that really struck a chord with me. Sure, Perl can do web 2.0, but if I am trying grok Perl, what sites really represent Perl? To me there are four: perl.org, perl.com, use.perl.org, and perlmonks.org. Perl.com is in O'Reilly's hands and is beyond most everyone's control because they have to fit into the O'Reilly brand. Still, there is a feel of professionalism to the site. The remaining three sites at least seem more open, but at the same time they are more disheartening. use.perl.org and perlmonks.org are both based on slashcode, which, well, just hasn't seemed to keep up with the times. The look of both is outdated, the RSS feeds that are produced are poor, and the CSS support is mediocre. The content is great, but the usability is just not there based on today's standards. There have even been hacks on the sites trying to create somewhat usable feeds, but even these can't produce a simple usable RSS feed that doesn't suck. And finally Perl.org... it isn't ugly, but it isn't pretty, and it sure isn't something that would drive someone to look deeper into Perl.
Would Perl benefit by taking some of that precious grant money and paying a site designer or, gasp, a marketer to design a new look at feel for Perl that fits into the web today? A new look might drive some of the old Perl faithfuls away, then again, it might bring some new talent into the mix. Luckily, it's not my call.
Overall, this was a great meeting. Tons of conversation and catalyst for hours of thought. Thanks again to everyone for joining us.