There’s a new Perl blog in town

One of the things I’ve been doing, in my current state of unemployment, is pondering the world of Perl blogs.

A month or so back, I happened to google for perl blogs and found almost nothing of use on the front page. Then I googled ruby blogs and found that most of the first page were, indeed, Ruby blogs, and good ones at that.

The Perl community has, for the most part, done its blogging activity on use.perl.org, a site set up in 1998 by Chris Nandor (Pudge) using slashcode (the software that runs slashdot). Early articles on use.perl.org included Perl 5.005 hits the streets and an announcement of the founding of comp.lang.perl.moderated.

Use Perl screenshot

Since its foundation, use.perl.org has also provided journals for any Perl developer who wants to share their Perlish musings. Here’s mine.

Unfortunately use.perl’s getting a bit long in the tooth now, and is missing some of the things we expect from a modern blog. Its content, too, is aimed at existing members of the Perl community and while it does a good job of disseminating Perl Monger meeting announcements, minutes and summaries from the various Perl mailing lists committees, and other news by and for the Perl community, it’s not very welcoming to those who might not already be immersed in Perl culture.

Alexa, for what it’s worth, shows a steady decline in use.perl’s popularity since the start of the year. (Use the “Page Views” option rather than “Reach” to get a clearer view.) A similar traffic dropoff can be seen for O’Reilly’s perl.com, though, so we can’t just blame use.perl.org. It just seems that people are tired of the existing Perl news/blog/journal sites, and are turning away from them.

Enter Perl Buzz, a new blog set up by Andy Lester and myself. I think of Perl Buzz as “the shiny, happy Perl blog”, and I’m not ashamed to pimp it out with every web 2.0 gimcrack and widget we can find. We’ve got yer tagcloud, “digg it” buttons, embedded YouTube videos, you name it. More importantly, we also have interesting articles you’ll actually want to read — we hope.

Perl Buzz

We’re not sure why Perl’s existing blogs (news sites, journals, whatever) are losing readership, but I’m guessing it’s a combination of:

* Tiredness. Readers are tired of the existing sites, which have changed little in 5-10 years.
* Owner burnout. The people running the sites are a bit tired of them too.
* Self-centredness. The community is talking amongst itself, and ignoring those outside, which leads to…
* Natural attrition. Old readers are falling off but new ones aren’t coming in.
* Web 1.0. The old blogs aren’t harnessing the social networks and semantic web features that could drive traffic to them.

I’m not saying that Perl Buzz will solve all these problems and bring about World Peace, but I will be interested to see whether setting up a blog that’s new, speaking to the broader community, and taking advantage of newer Web 2.0 features can succeed.

If you’re interested in setting up yet another Perl blog, whether general or specific in nature, I’d like to really encourage you to do so. Blogs are not a limited resource and I firmly believe that the Perl world will benefit from having a strong, diverse ecosystem of blogs filling every possible niche. Please do it, and let me know so I can add it to my own feed reader. You might also want to add yourself to the list of Perl blogs on the Perl 5 wiki.

12 thoughts on “There’s a new Perl blog in town

  1. A great deal of the traffic drop on Perl.com is that we cut our publishing frequency in half at the start of 2006, and then in half again around August 2006. Alexa’s numbers show a strong correlation.

  2. chromatic: fair enough, though it does make me wonder why, and how those reasons tie into the general sense of lethargy(?) I’ve been feeling around the existing Perl sites.

  3. The big problem with use.Perl is that it’s actually hard for outsiders to find the journals – it looks like nothing more than a rarely updated news site about arcana of the Perl cabal. It took *me* a long time to get into it!

    If those who happen to stumble on the fact that there are user journals on the site, it’s almost impossible to find how to read them sensibly. which is via the search page, where you have select the “Journals” radiobutton and leave the search box empty. That gets you get a planet-style list of posts (but only summaries, no full content) that even has a useful feed (*including* full content!). It’s completely undiscoverable.

    You know what I’d like? A site that brings *everyone* (who wants to be a part) into the fold.

    The basic idea is something that combines the `planet` and `use` hosts of the `perl.org` domain: a portal where users can either create a weblog on-site or add their existing site’s feed. All weblogs, whether on-site or syndicated, would be shown in a single timeline on a planet-style front page with full post content.

    On-site weblogs would offer the same features as commonly expected today; in particular, there would be minimal HTML filtering when viewing an individual weblog.

    But some extra filtering would be employed when posts of different people get shown on the same page, to prevent anyone from playing nasty tricks. Each individual local weblog would also have a separate host, eg. `skud.blogs.perl.org`, which causes the browser’s same-domain restrictions to prevent cookie stealing and other general scripting nastiness.

    The per-weblog host name also meshes well with the next point: minting an OpenID for every weblogger who participates.

    The point of that is that leaving a comment on an on-site weblog would require OpenID sign-in too. Of course the site would recognise comments signed with its own OpenIDs, and would show extra user metadata above the comment in that case. So it would work just the way use.Perl comments work, encouraging the same kind of social meshing. But it would be much more approachable to outsiders, who can use any foreign OpenID they want, rather than having to sign up to leave a comment.

    And of course the site as a whole would be much more approachable to outsiders.

    See, I’ve got *all* of this laid out in pretty minute detail in my head… I’m just lacking in JFDI and tuits.

  4. Gah. Let’s try that second paragraph again:

    For those who happen to stumble on the fact that there are user journals on the site, it’s almost impossible to find how to read them sensibly – which is via the search page, where you have to select the “Journals” radiobutton and leave the search box empty. That will get you a planet-style list of posts (but only summaries, no full content) which even has a useful feed (including full content!). That’s just completely undiscoverable.

    [If you paste the above paragraph over the one in the previous comment and delete this one, I’d be grateful.]

  5. Aristotle: Mmm, sounds like we’re having a lot of the same ideas. Do you use IRC/IM/Skype at all? We should chat.

  6. Sure do. I always idle on `irc.perl.org`, though I don’t actually look there much. But I am equally constantly on various IM services (of which I prefer Jabber).

  7. While this only helps people who (a) use firefox, and (b) have greasemonkey installed, I’ve made a few tweaks to add a few technorati and digg links to use.perl journals.

    The userscript can be found at http://userscripts.org/scripts/review/11661 , and a screenshot at http://flickr.com/photos/pfenwick/1210782257/ .

    This doesn’t help new people discover the journals in use.perl, but it does help existing readers push content out to the meta-blogosphere. Feedback, questions, tests, patches and the like are welcome.

  8. Don’t forget the Planet! Planet Perl is fantastic, in my opinion, as a way to bind the community together. I’ve got to say, I’d never have considered myself part of “the perl community”, despite SpamAssassin and my CPAN uploads, if it wasn’t for Planet Perl aggregating my blogging on the subject.

    Regarding a possible cause for lethargy — the perl community seems very strongly tied to its various conferences. This is probably great if you can attend the conferences, but if you can’t, it’s not so good; it tends to select for the people who are *already* at the heart of things, rather than attracting outsiders.

    I’d love to see Aristotle’s ideas in practice… and good luck with perlbuzz — I’ve subscribed ;)

  9. Justin: Hi, and thanks for commenting. Planet Perl is indeed a good thing. I talked to Robrt recently and asked him to include the phrase “perl blogs” on the site, which he’s done, so hopefully it’s even more findable now. At least it’s now showing up as #2 on Google when you search for “perl blogs”.

    I think you’re right about the conferences in a way. They seem to be huge sources of energy in their own right, but if you can’t get to them then they have a way of sucking energy away from everything else. I suspect one way to improve this is to have more outward-facing publicity around the conferences, before/during/after, so that people can appreciate them even if they can’t attend.

  10. I think that perlbuzz is a great idea and subscribed as soon as I read about it.

    You do raise some fair points regarding use.perl. I’ve been reading the journals there for years now and even posted my own back in the day. As such I’m used to the somewhat antiquated look and unintuitive journal navigation. But I do agree that it’s not exactly conducive to attracting a new larger audience.

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