Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Programming Landscape

The RailsConf t-shirts, keynotes, and conference materials put a lot of attention on Rails' dramatically steep acceptance curve. I've seen this before. It's a lot like the early years of the dot-com boom.

There's a pattern to it. Maybe a lifecycle, although it may not be cyclical. Definitely a story.

The Secret Valley

The technology is secret and magical; anyone who discovers it finds an excuse to return to it, because they love it and they think it's wonderful.

Boomtown

The streets are filled with newcomers, and a few newly wealthy original inhabitants.

Suburbia

The technology becomes the standard, and everyone associated with it has two kids and a garage.

I get out when Suburbia hits, so I don't know what happens afterwards, but after a period of time you get something which reappears on my radar:

The Ghost Town

Where tumbleweeds roll down once-thronging streets.

What It Means

The Secret Valley is heaven for the curious. The Boom Town is heaven for the trendy. Suburbia is hell, and should be wiped off the face of the earth. The Ghost Town is heaven for historians and archaeologists.

Actually, the Secret Valley is heaven for the curious who look forward in time, and the Ghost Town is heaven for the curious who look backward in time.

Boomtown and the Ghost Town feature the best programming income. Boomtown favors young hotshots and the Ghost Town draws aging wizards out of obscurity, but both feature more demand than supply. The Secret Valley has a lot of interesting but not much money. Suburbia is its precise inverse, in that respect.

Exceptions

HTTP started in the Secret Valley, and was a Ghost Town by the time the rest of the Web was Suburbia. REST found HTTP and claimed it as a Secret Valley, which then turned into a Boomtown for a second time.

Similarly, Seaside is a Secret Valley inside Smalltalk, which appears to otherwise be a Ghost Town. Actually, when you think of it that way, the relation of Ruby and Rails is kind of similar. Ruby is really a giant Secret Valley, full of nooks and crannies, which contains a bustling Boomtown. The residents of the Boomtown are so busy with commerce, many of them have no idea of the treasures lurking in the wilderness nearby.