Promoting Squeak/Smalltalk

Colin Putney cputney at
Wed Jan 30 00:51:16 UTC 2008

On 29-Jan-08, at 3:42 PM, Joshua Gargus wrote:

> The benefits of popularity seem clear.  There would be more smart  
> people with more spare time to contribute good ideas and code.   
> There would be more jobs and a better chance of making a living  
> using the language.  The second benefit would feed into the first,  
> and vice-versa.

Well, I agree that smart people contributing to the community would be  
a good thing. But popularity doesn't necessarily imply smart people,  
it just means *more* people. I think the community we have today is  
actually quite good. The "unpopularity" of Smalltalk acts as a filter.  
To be a Smalltalker you've got to be smart enough to recognize the  
benefits, confident enough to leave the mainstream, and resourceful  
enough to overcome the obstacles that working in an "unpopular"  
language entails. If Smalltalk were more popular, I doubt we would  
actually get all that many more "smart people" than we have now.

Now, making a living using the language. Popularity would probably  
bring more jobs, but it would also bring more programmers to compete  
for those jobs. It would probably also lower the average salary of  
Smalltalk jobs. That might or might not be a good thing.

> The question is whether the benefits outweigh the costs.  Since the  
> benefits seem obvious to me, I'll assume that you're really  
> expressing skepticism about whether the benefits outweigh the  
> costs.  What do you think the costs are? (I can think of a few, but  
> I'm curious about what others think)

I guess there are two costs. One is the effort and sacrifices required  
to make Smalltalk popular. For example, we might try creating a Ruby- 
on-Rails clone in Smalltalk, in order to take advantage of the current  
vogue in web apps. That would be a fair amount of work, presumably  
done by people who might otherwise be working on things that benefit  
the existing community. Or perhaps Seaside could be "dumbed down" so  
it could be marketed to the kind of developer that doesn't like the  
"magic" of continuations. That makes Seaside worse for the rest of us.

The other cost is all the noise that would get introduced into the  
community. Sure, Java has more libraries than Smalltalk, but most of  
them are just crap. All they do is make it harder to find the good  
stuff, and diffuse the energy of the community.

In general, I think we'd be better to focus not on popularity, but on  
community. Yes, a certain size is required for the community to  
function well, but beyond that there are diminishing returns from  
further growth. As long as the VM gets maintained, libraries written,  
bugs fixed, questions answered, newbies encouraged - as long as the  
community is functioning - Smalltalk is sufficiently popular.


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