Over the years, I’ve been involved with a fair number of Bricolage implementations for different organizations. (For those that don’t know, Bricolage is a large, Perl-based, publishing system.) Many of these organizations don’t have a full-time Perl programmer on staff, and instead rely on external contracts to do the heavy lifting that comes up from time-to-time. However, most of these organizations have a "Web producer" or "Web manager" — a generalist who helps with content updates, and smaller scale Web site changes — and, almost without fail, that person eventually asks: How can I learn more about Perl?
Giving credit where credit is due: The folks behind Padre, the Perl IDE, are leading by example when it comes to doing community engagement well. Twice now, folks from the Padre project have dropped me a note to ask about this or that, which is a great way to catch people’s attention So, with such great outreach, I’d feel like a complete schmoe if I didn’t at least give Padre a whirl.
Unfortunately, getting Padre running is currently pretty difficult — I’d say a tad more difficult than installing Bricolage, which has historically been a non-trivial exercise. No doubt the Padre install process is going to get a whack easier soon, given the high number of commits the project sees in a given week.
One of the most enjoyable benefits of working with a not-for-profit workers’ co-operative is being able to invest some time into activities that aren’t exclusively tied to generating revenue. New Internationalist has long-relied on free and open source software and this year we will try to formalize our efforts to contribute back to projects that have helped along the way. The concept is "Free Software Fridays," which is something we hope will catch on at other organizations.
The concept is simple: those of us that work on technology-related aspects of New Internationalist’s operation invest two hours per week, or one day a month, into supporting the free software projects that we rely on, or toward releasing the tools that we’ve developed internally as free software. The idea itself is open source, in the sense that we’ve taken the broad strokes from the idea of "Open Source Fridays" started by our friends at the Web Collective in Seattle and re-purposed them to fit with the work culture at NI.
A couple weeks back, I asked the question "Where is the big ‘Explore Perl’ button?" and followed up last week with a short demo of the kind of thing I was thinking about. Some folks liked it: so today it’s one step closer to "reality." And now it’s your turn to take it to the next level.
This isn’t really a post. But, after a bit of a funny back-and-forth with Adam Kennedy, I thought it would be fun to throw together an example of what a "persistent Perl ecosystem toolbar" might look like in reality.
So, here’s a quick demo.
How can we make Perl more "explorable?" That’s the question I’ve been wrestling with since my last post about "Getting to the root of Perl’s perception problems." (By the way, thanks for all of the feedback — very helpful).
As I continued to think through the different audiences that Perl needs to speak to and the challenge of helping them find the information they’re looking for, I kept coming back to one idea: we need a Sherpa.
The interest in improving the perception of Perl is increasing every day (much to my surprise!). From Matt S Trout’s initiative to feed patches back to the maintainers of perl.org to Jon Allen’s TPF grant application to "Improve the visual design of Perl websites," to Gábor Szabó’s "Measurable objectives for the Perl ecosystem," each step builds on the next. All of them are tangible and practical steps toward a Perl renaissance online.
Of even more interest is the approach. Like many Perl programs of the past, it appears like the first thought is "Let’s just fix this fast," which sometimes can happen even before the problem has been well defined (ahem, spaghetti code anyone?). And while the speed of the "Just Freakin’ Do It" approach works when trying to get people excited, it can sometimes miss the mark around harnessing a community’s collective wisdom. In my experience, the Perl community has a lot of collective wisdom to tap in to and should be thinking as long term as possible when it comes to re-defining what the Perl community looks like to the outside world.
So, in the interest of pushing the conversation forward another step, I wanted to explore two questions:
- What is the Perl community "selling" to the outside world?
- Who is the Perl community "selling" its message to?
Following on the last post about "Prettier Perl Web sites" and taking Sebastian Riedel’s "Don’t explain what you think would look better, just make a mockup and show us!" challenge to heart, I spent some time looking at Perl’s existing design patterns.
Specifically, I wanted to take a closer look at two established Perl "brands" and to expose the underlying elements of their design consistency; the typography, colours, and so on. The two I chose — because they look like they were developed by professionals, and not some 12-year-old with access to GIMP — are The Perl Foundation and O’Reilly Media’s Perl books.
In this post, I’ll focus on The Perl Foundation. Let’s start with the logo:
In doing a bit of background reading for this post, I stumbled on Sebastian Riedel’s Perl Monk post from 2008 titled "Prettier Perl websites." The discussion on that post is a fun read, as it highlights the polarization in the Perl community around Perl’s (rather lousy) public image. This comment says it all:
One thing I always liked to say about Perl-based services/sites, is that they, like Perl (and the Camel) are "Ugly, but efficient".
However, if you’re following the conversations about "Modern Perl," and "Enlightened Perl," then you know that Perl doesn’t have to be ugly to be efficient. And, in that spirit, I’m not going to debate the why, or if, improving the public face of Perl Web sites is important, as that has been covered in my previous posts.
Though I feel strongly that the Perl community’s online visual identity (or lack of one) poses unnecessary friction or drag when trying to appeal to potential adopters, there are also some very positive currents in the Perl community to highlight.
Recently, I’ve been reading with great interest about the future of Perl, and — more specifically — about how the "outside" sees Perl and how Perl might need a director of marketing. Frankly, and at the risk of rocking the boat, I’ll propose that Perl needs more than just a marketing director, or someone on the "outside" to do a survey; Put simply: Perl needs a creative agitator. (Or, perhaps more appropriately, a creative benevolent dictator.)
Though I’ve been using Perl on-and-off for more than ten years, I’m relatively new to the "Perl community." I’ve been involved with promoting free and open-source software since 1999 — writing articles, organizing events, and so on — and sometime in 2005, while interviewing the fine folks at Portland’s FreeGeek project, I was pulled back into the world of Perl.
At that time, my initial reaction was: Is the Perl community schizophrenic?