Thursday, May 25, 2006

Computer Language Mailing Lists

I like learning new computer languages -- especially languages that do certain things better than the languages I already know. I think it's exciting to write real code in a language I've never used before because it's always a great learning experience.

By my experience, if you're venturing into unfamiliar territories, especially places where the cool stuff isn't mentioned in books because it's actually just been committed to CVS, your best resource for answers is often the developer mailing lists. On the mailing list, you can often get answers from real experts to almost any question you have. In many cases, a language's mailing list is almost an important a resource as the language's reference documentation. Yes, you can live without it, but you probably don't want to.

Generally, the more active a list is, the greater the chances are that somebody will give you useful advice when you run into trouble. Following this train of thought, I thought it would be interesting to measure the activity levels of mailing lists for different languages, so I looked the archives of several mailing lists and compiled the results into this lovely graph, which shows the number of postings on each mailing list for the month of April, 2006 (In a couple of cases -- C++/Boost and Ruby On Rails -- I just looked at libraries and/or frameworks that I believe are a central hub of activity for the language).

Despite Java's undeniable popularity, I didn't get any data on its mailing list activity because I just couldn't find "The" Java mailing list" after some searching on Google.

The Ruby On Rails has list nothing short of a phenomenal level of participation, which fuels the RoR's rapid development. PHP, Python, and C++/Boost have a very respectable level of community activity as well, reflecting their popularity among developers. OCaml and Haskell are great languages but judging by their mailing list activity, they haven't made it into the mainstream (yet?). haXe, despite its young age and small number of developers, has a relatively active community, which I attribute to its origins from the popular MTASC flash compiler its rapid improvement by its creator, Nicolas Cannasse. Erlang, which I think is underrated given its unparalleled concurrent and distributed programming capabilities, doesn't have a highly active mailing list in comparison to C++/Boost, Ruby, PHP and Python.

Hope you find this interesting. If you want to dispute my conclusions, go ahead and write a comment and I will make sure to promptly delete it.

Just kidding.

Here's where I got the data:









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