Bambi Meets Godzilla: How Much Does Hype Matter?

Posted on Oct 20, 2008

Thanks to a semi-recent post on JJLinuxland, I came across a post in the archives of the O'Reilly Ruby blog entitled, Bambi Meets Godzilla. The post attempts to correct a lambasting the author had suffered for a previous article in which he tries to explain how marketing and hype matter to the development of a computer language. It’s certainly a good read and suggests many interesting points of debate.

In it he concludes,

We live in a world where culture matters, economics matter, and marketing hype matters. They are very real forces that directly affect our quality of life as programmers. You ignore them at your peril, a lesson learned by so many almost-forgotten languages that were stomped by marketing hurricanes like Java and Perl.

First, allow me to get culture out of the way. In his article he picks some very specific examples from his interactions with the Python community to frame his argument. The problem is that elitists, egotists, and trolls exist in every community on the Internet. Any of his examples could be applied to any other language and equivalent results could be reported. Yet, despite this he saves reverence for the Ruby community. By framing the issue in much the same way as the author, I can arrive to the same conclusion for any other language I choose and so I find this particular argument moot.

The reality is that popularity will come and go. Ruby was an obscure toy language before Rails and the 37 Signals hype machine came into play. That can all change tomorrow. The choice of a language should be a practical one at least and an academic one if possible. The populist choice is not always the superior one; the law of averages chooses mediocrity after all. The exceptional are border cases, so never be afraid to go against the flow. DHH did when he chose Ruby and it worked out well.

Besides, what’s more important in a language: who uses it or what you can do with it?