I think it was at YAPC Copenhagen in 2008 that a small group of us first discussed the idea of building a shared blogging platform for the Perl community. It was over a year later that we launched blogs.perl.org.
I remember a lot of discussions over that time where we tried to thrash out exactly what we wanted to build. I know that one of my main drivers was that I wanted to replace the journals feature of use.perl. For those of you too young to remember, use.perl was a Perl community web site from the dawn of time. The site ran Perl news on its front page, but users could also have their own journal. For a few years, we had a nice little blogging community on the site. It used the same software as Slashdot and, like Slashdot, was looking pretty dated at the time. I remember being particularly disappointed that you couldn’t put images in a journal entry.
So that was certainly where I started from when planning blogs.perl.org. I wanted a modern blogging platform to replace use.perl. Other people wanted slightly different things. At least one person argued strongly that what we really needed was a nice-looking blog aggregator and that people could do their actual blogging on their own sites (or some other blog provider).
But, as you can see, that point of view lost out and we implemented a full blogging system using Movable Type.
Ten years on, I think that was a mistake. I think that having a community blogging platform for Perl is actively harmful to Perl.
I’ll explain why a bit later, but first let’s talk through a bit of more recent history of the site.
It’s well-known, I think, that the site is not is a good state. I’m happy to explain what happened there, but it’s a long and rather dull story. There have been a couple of attempts to build replacement systems but they both stalled before they were complete.
So we’re left in a situation where the site is broken and no-one really has the time or the expertise to fix it. And attempts to replace it seem doomed to failure.
Earlier this year I decided that the situation was untenable and that I wanted to close the site down. I spoke to Aaron and he pretty much agreed with me. We decided that we’d give people plenty of notice to take their blogging elsewhere and, rather than closing the site completely, we would make it read-only (so all the existing content would still be there). We ran the idea past the rest of the loose “management team” and Aristotle spoke up, saying that he would rather take the site over himself and try to improve matters. And that’s what happened. Over the last few months, Aaron and I have extricated ourselves from running the site and it’s all now handled by Aristotle.
I wish him all the best in those endeavours and really hope he manages to make the site better than it was (he’s already making great progress in removing loads of old spam blogs from the site).
But, really, I think that my original plan was a better idea. I don’t want people to blog about Perl on a Perl community site. I want people to blog about Perl on sites where people blog about other languages and technologies.
I’ve been giving talks about the need for the Perl community to break out of its echo chamber for almost as long as I’ve been part of the community. But I think it’s important. It’s a kind of low-key marketing. If you’re talking about your cool Perl project on a Perl community web site then only people who are looking for Perl articles will find it. But if you blog about it on a general programming web site then a) you’ll get a far bigger audience and b) some of that audience might say “oh! I never knew Perl could do that – perhaps I’ll give it a closer look.”
And that’s why I think blogs.perl.org (and, probably, use.perl before it) are harmful to Perl. It encourages Perl bloggers to blog for the Perl community – when it would be far better to get your blog posts in front of more people. Perl people will still read your Perl posts (through Perlsphere perhaps, or post the link to /r/perl or the Perl Community Facebook group) but other people will see them too. On blogs.perl.org, you’re pretty much guaranteed that only Perl programmers will see your posts.
To be honest, I don’t understand why people still use blogs.perl.org. Until Aristotle’s work bears fruit it’s painfully broken. What do you get that’s worth putting yourself through all of that pain? Why not just blog somewhere else and submit your web feed to Perlsphere? Or blog where other programmers blog – somewhere like dev.to, perhaps (I’ve started publishing my more technical blog posts there).
I think it will be great if Aristotle gets blogs.perl.org working well. I really want that to happen. But it would be even better if he didn’t have to. If people stopped using it; if they went off and started spreading their interesting Perl blog posts all over the web.
Break out of the echo chamber. Find yourself a bigger audience. Spread the word beyond the Perl community.
Or, alternatively, explain to me why it’s so vital that the Perl community has its own centralised blogging platform.