If you were at YAPC::Europe this week you might well have seen Richard Jelinek’s talk about how to increase Perl’s popularity (update: the slides are here). As part of that talk he suggested that the Perl community needed to run more of its infrastructure using Perl and (amongst other examples) he mentioned a discussion he had with an unnamed Perl News administrator about why Perl News is run using WordPress (which is written in PHP).
I’m happy to admit that I’m the unnamed Perl News administrator. But I think that Richard’s report of our conversation omits a lot of the detail in the points I tried to make to him. So I’d like to take the time to clarify my thoughts on this. There are three points in particular that I’d like to make.
I have a lot of projects on the go. I should probably cut back a bit. Yes, I could start a project to create a WordPress clone in Perl, but that would mean that I would need to shelve a few other projects for some considerable time. The alternative is to quickly build Perl News using an existing tool. You know which option I chose. Of course, you’re free to disagree with me.
2/ Network Effects
Even if there was a capable WordPress replacement written in Perl I probably wouldn’t use it. You see, WordPress isn’t just the software. There’s also a huge community behind it. And that means that there are a huge number of themes and plugins available – with more being released all the time. Every time I want to add a feature to WordPress site, I just find the appropriate plugin and install it. Without that huge community, I would have to implement lots of stuff myself. Which would mean that either I’d be working on Perl News full-time or Perl News would be missing lots of features (for example the social networking hooks).
Leo and I built Perl News because we thought it was a useful site for the Perl community to have. You can probably tell from the frequency of updates on the site that it’s not exactly a top priority for either of us. Personally, I’d be very happy if someone else took responsibility for it. So if you think that you can do better, or if you have a Perl system that you think could be used in place of WordPress without any removal of functionality, them please let us know. I’d be really happy to give you a dump of our database (so that you have all the existing stories) and update the DNS to point the domain at your server.
If it matters to you to have Perl web sites running on Perl code, then just go ahead and do it. I would be happy to see it happen. I just don’t have the time to do it myself.
A couple of years ago I thought that one thing the Perl community was missing was a network of blog sites about Perl. I’m not talking about the individual blogs that are being shown off to such good effect by the Iron Man project, I’m talking about a set of multi-author blogs that covered particular facets of the Perl world. Something like a Perl-specific version of LifeHacker or BoingBoing. To that end, I registered a number of domains and set about installing Movable Type.
That bit was easy. That bit I can do. The next bit is harder.
The next bit involves getting authors interested in writing for the blogs on a regular basis. That bit I didn’t do so well at and none of the blogs florished.
One of them didn’t even get going. That was Cultured Perl. The idea behind Cultured Perl was that it would discuss Perl culture. That’s all the non-technical bits of the Perl world. Perl Mongers, Perl conferences, things like that. I had a few authors signed up, but nothing ever really happened.
So why am I telling you this? Well, the Cultured Perl domains are up for renewal. And I’m trying to work out whether it’s worth keeping them.
Would you be interested in reading a Cultured Perl blog? And would you be interested in writing for it?
In The “M” Word, I listed many of the things that have happened in the Perl marketing world over the last year. I wanted to end the year by mentioning a few people without whom this project would not have got off the ground at all.
Curtis “Ovid” Poe started writing about Perl’s image issues on his use.perl journal back in July. But he didn’t just write about it. He chaired the Marketing BOF that we held in Lisbon and he was the driving force behind setting up the TPF marketing committee. He has also been instrumental in getting the blogs.perl.org site up and running.
Gábor Szabó wasn’t very far behind Ovid in starting to blog about marketing. He has also been vociferous in TPF marketing committee discussions. He always has another idea for projects we can take on and often does those projects himself before anyone else has a chance to volunteer. I particularly want to draw attention to the clean-up he did on pm.org (a site full of links to dead Perl Monger groups isn’t great advertising) and his work trying to increase Perl’s visibility at non-Perl conferences.
Matt Trout and Mark Keating set up the Iron Man Blogging competition. To my mind this has been the single biggest success in marketing Perl this year. I’m still astonished daily by the number of people out there who are blogging about Perl. They have somewhere around two hundred blogs in the competition.
Leo Lapworth has done some amazing work dragging Perl’s web sites into the 21st century. Not many weeks go by without Leo announcing that he has redesigned another web site. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some of his announcements, but for a sample of his work see www.perl.org, learn.perl.org, dbi.perl.org and lists.perl.org. Thanks should also go to his employers, Foxtons, who donated some of his time (and some time from a web designer too).
Of course it’s true that the recent resurgence of Perl is due to the new and improved modules that you can find on CPAN. Moose, DBIx::Class, Catalyst and Plack (to name only four) are what enables Perl to retain its place in the forefront of modern programming languages. But it’s the people listed above (and dozens of other who also work on marketing projects) who enable Perl news to break out of the echo chamber.
We owe these people our thanks. And, on a more practical level, we owe them beer. If you see them at a Perl Mongers meeting, at a conference or even just on the street, it is your duty to stop them and say the magic words:
It’s ten days since we announced blogs.perl.org and it still doesn’t work properly.
Our mistake was to launch it on a really underpowered server. It worked fine when there were half a dozen of us testing it out, but when the entire Perl community descended on it to take a look at the site (and to sign up for accounts) the server collapsed under the strain.
All of the problems that I’ve been told about so far have been down to memory allocation issues. The server has 512 MB (corrected from KB – it’s bad, but not that bad!) of RAM and it really needs four times that.
Things have calmed down over the last few days though. I suspect that’s largely because people have lost interest in the site and have given up trying to register. We’ve also switched all of the MT processes to using FCGI. I see that a few people have registered successfully and are posting entries on the site. I salute their persistence.
We have a plan for fixing the situation, however, and that will be put in place over the next week or so. The site will be moving to a new server with a more appropriate hardware configuration. We hope to minimise the amount of downtime whilst this happens.
I can only apologise, once more, for the problems. I hope that once the new server is up and running, you’ll all consider giving blogs.perl.org another try.
I hope it’s obvious, but none of these problems should be taken as a reflection on the quality of Movable Type or the work that Six Apart have done for us on the site. The problems all come down to capacity planning on the part of the people running the project.
Which reminds me – if you’re ever looking for someone to do capacity planning on your web site, I’m not the right person for the job!
It’s quite possible that over the last year or so you’ve heard me muttering about a secret project that I’ve been working on. Well, this morning I can finally reveal what it is.
Do you ever wish that the Perl community had a centralised blogging site where anyone could set up a blog for free? Something, perhaps, that allows you to use modern blogging features like images in your posts or tags.
If you’ve ever wished for something like that, then can I suggest that you take a look at blogs.perl.org. I think it might be just what you’re looking for.
The site is built using Movable Type and we were lucky enough to get some people from Six Apart to build it for us. I’d like to particularly thank Steve Cook of their professional services division who has done a lot of the actual work. Thanks also go to Jeremy King who designed the site and David Jacobs who is their manager and allowed them to work on the project on company time.
From the Perl community I need to thanks Aaron Crane who is hosting the site and Curtis Poe and Aristotle Pagaltzis who have both been involved in planning this project. Many other people have given invaluable advice or have been early testers of the site. Thanks to everyone who has been involved.
All that remains now is for you to try it out. You should regard it as a beta test version, so some of you will find problems. When you do, please just let me know and we’ll fix them.
I hope you enjoy the site and find it useful.
Update: Yes, there seems to be one quite glaring problem with it. That’s the web server errors that are generated occasionally when someone tries to log in (or out). Seems to be a resource allocation issue with the server. We’re looking into it. Please bear with me.
One of the nice things about the Perl community is its friendliness. I’ve met up with Perl Mongers on three continents. It’s easy, if you’re going past a city you just look for local groups on the pm.org web site and drop them a mail. There are hundreds of cities in the world where I can be guaranteed finding someone to share a beer or a pizza with.
And over the next few days I’m going to see both sides of that equation.
Tonight there’s a london.pm emergency meeting. The emergency is that there are a couple of visitors in town and it would be rude if we didn’t entertain them. The visitors are David Adler (dha) from New York and Gianni Ceccarelli (dakkar) from Italy. We’ll be in the Star Tavern from about 6:30pm.
Then over the weekend I’ll be in Edinburgh. And that means spending an evening with edinburgh.pm. I’ll be meeting them at the Cumberland Bar at about 7pm on Sunday.
You would, of course, be most welcome at either of these events.
And the next time you’re travelling the world (or even just travelling round your country) why not give it a try. Get in touch with a Perl Monger group and let some locals show you around,
It’s coming up to ten days since my last post and if I don’t post something soon my Iron Man status will drop back to paper. And we don’t want that to happen, do we? But I don’t have anything new to write about. My spare time recently has been largely taken up by preparing the training courses for later this month.
What I do have is a bit of a teaser for you. A project that I’ve been involved with for over a year will be launching in the next few days. I think it’s something that the Perl community is really going to love. I’m so excited!
Are teasers considered cheating in the Iron Man challenge?
I’m glad to see this idea getting traction. It’s something that I mentioned in 2006. So whilst people are talking about it, let’s see if we can get something done. A large number of Perl programmers will be getting together in Lisbon next week, so I’m trying to arrange a session where we can talk this through and make some kind of plan. If you’re interested in marketing Perl and you’ll be in Lisbon, then please sign up and and come along.
At OSCON last night the winners of this year’s White Camel awards were announced. Unless you were involved in the discussions to choose the winners or were at OSCON, you won’t have known that as there has been no announcement on any of the usual Perl newssites. And TPF wonder why people complain that they don’t communicate
Anyway, the White Camel winners for this year are Tim Bunce, Michael Schwern and Philippe (BooK) Bruhat. Three extremely deserving winners, all of whom have done a lot of useful work for the Perl community.