Rename Perl 5? Marketing: UR DOIN IT WRONG

Earlier this month Ovid once again raised the question: Should we rename Perl?”

As usual, the question sparked a flurry of opinions on the matter. Most of the discussion occurred in the comments of Ovid’s original post.

I’m not here to chime in on that question. Whether the name should change or should not, what it should change to, when it would happen, these questions are all closed. RJBS has said there will be no change right now and that’s that. He is driving the Perl 5 bus right now. If he says the name is not changing then that’s good enough for me. Discussion closed.

No, I’m not here to discuss that matter. I’m here to point something out:

Damn, team. That was some dismal marketing I just witnessed.

Just what exactly is the problem you’re looking to solve here? Where are the metrics to support that? Whom are you looking to convince? How will the solution be rolled out? Who’s going to do the work? What’s it going to cost? How will you know when the work is done? How will you know whether it’s working?

None of the people participating in the conversation would ever consider releasing a small patch to a CPAN module without first having a complete set of tests for it. Yet the same people seem to have no problem changing something as fundamental as the name of the language without performing some sort of market research and testing.

Despite the reputation its earned, marketing is not a crap shoot. A successful marketing or branding campaign requires just as much forethought and carefully considered execution as a good piece of software. You don’t just throw it together, put it out there and hope it does what the target audience needs. It could be impossible to recover from the damage caused by rash branding decisions.

I would welcome nothing more than more discussions about whether Perl 5 should be renamed. But I would like them to be as well researched and considered as any other change which would be made to the language itself.

3 comments

  1. I think it’s also worth noting that all the frustrations about Perl 6 are because we have never had answers to any of those very questions: “Just what exactly is the problem you’re looking to solve here? Where are the metrics to support that? Whom are you looking to convince? How will the solution be rolled out? Who’s going to do the work? What’s it going to cost? How will you know when the work is done? How will you know whether it’s working?”

    I’m not at all bashing Perl 6. It’s done amazing things for Perl 5. But the public perceptions about Perl 6 all run aground on those questions we have no answers for.

    • Huh. I’d never considered that before, Andy. I’m not entirely up to date with Perl 6 history and progress, but from what I know your comments ring true. Thank you for drawing that parallel.

      The questions I pose are standard ones for any project, be it branding or product creation. While it’s not always necessary to publicize (or even finalize) the answers, I do believe it’s always necessary to at least consider the questions themselves. Not doing so greatly increases risk of project failure.

      Know what you know. “Know” what you don’t know. Act from there. The key is in the knowing.

  2. There is a profession dedicated to brand research, but they
    themselves admit that some of the more striking examples of brand
    invention have come from outside of the profession: “yahoo”,
    “google”… So, metrics do you have to support the idea that
    your approach to marketing actually does work?

    And if we do buy into the idea that we need marketing research,
    then how are we going to do this? Do you want the perl
    foundation to fund some research? Are we going to hire a firm to
    do it, or will we hack it ourselves?

    That said it’s nice reading a comment on this issue that takes
    the notion of marketing seriously at all: the usual stance seems
    to be that these issues are just invitations to “bike-shedding”,
    and we uber-geeks are above such trivial concerns.

    As for the question: “what exactly is the problem you’re looking
    to solve here”:

    There seemed to be at least two different agendas that were
    talking past each other. Ovid was concerned with the myth that
    perl 5 is dead because perl 6 has been slow. Quite a few people
    jumped in who are convinced that perl needs to break backwards
    compatibility, and that this is the main reason you’d care about
    any kind of “re-branding”, even though it’s not at all what Ovid
    was talking about.

    Myself, I like the scheme of using “perl $year” on external
    announcements. I think it says “this is *this* year’s perl”
    without denying the possibility that perl 6 may someday deserve
    that title. Stealing the 7 is a funny idea, but too obnoxious to
    expect anyone will really go for it: fundamentally Larry Wall is
    still steering the perl bus. RJBS is just his current lieutenant
    on perl 5.

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