[Haskell-cafe] Building the community

Cale Gibbard cgibbard at gmail.com
Thu Dec 14 19:49:49 EST 2006

On 14/12/06, Conrad Parker <conrad at metadecks.org> wrote:
>   What [hackers] are, unapologetically, is hostile to people who seem to
>   be unwilling to think or to do their own homework before asking questions.
>   People like that are time sinks — they take without giving back, and they
>   waste time we could have spent on another question more interesting and
>   another person more worthy of an answer. We call people like this "losers"
>   (and for historical reasons we sometimes spell it "lusers").
> I hope the Haskell community never adopts such an arrogant tone.

I really agree with this. I think that one of the reasons that the
Haskell community has grown to be so polite and helpful compared to
many communities of comparable size is that kindness begets kindness.
There's been a lot of chatter lately about how the Haskell community
can grow faster than it has been. Personally, I would rather not have
it grow any faster than we can manage. If there was a sudden influx of
10000 brand-new Haskell users  overnight (unattached to some
pre-existing educational program), I think this community would
quickly have a major problem answering all the mailing list and IRC
traffic. If the community grows gradually, we'll easily be able to
support it, because there will be a correspondingly larger number of
experts and intermediate level users to help us out. Remember, if some
significant factor of Haskell programmers advocate the language just
to two of their friends, that's still exponential growth.

There are also lots of other reasons why growing too quickly and
gaining commercial users too quickly are double edged swords.
Personally, I'd like to see the Prelude undergo a few more iterations,
and it gets harder to change as more and more projects rely on it.
When it does change, the maintenance cost of old code goes up, and not
every project has an active maintainer. Popularity also results in
large numbers of people who are invested in a particular way of doing
things and are resistant to change. Haskell is a research language,
and I'd personally like to see it remain a research language as its
user-base grows. Granted, it would be better than the
30-year-old-at-heart programming languages people are using today, but
I don't think I'd be truly satisfied if the Haskell which everyone
used was not the Haskell which the researchers were working on with
all the cool new ideas in it.

I'm not saying "don't advocate Haskell", I love it too, and I like
seeing new users, but I think we need to take some care in maintaining
our excellent community while we're at it. Advocating the language on
a grassroots basis means that each new user gets a mentor, or if not
one, then an equivalent-mentor spread across the community, and people
who have been mentored in such a way tend to repay it many times over
in helping other beginners.

Having a tightly-knit community who have adopted the mindset of
following language development closely will also help offset the costs
of change to the language.

There are lots of benefits to growing the community, I just think that
these are things to consider before we take out a full-page ad in the
New York Times. :)

 - Cale

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