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What's the Common Lisp version of Perlmonks or Ruby-forum? I have yet to find it.

comp.lang.lisp is largely crap. 50% of the traffic on that list is spam about shoes and fake watches. The other half is equally split between:

  • People debating tiny, silly semantic points of the Common Lisp Hyperspec.
  • People stuck in the 70's or 80's, talking about the good old days, ruminating about Lisp history.
  • Flame wars.
  • New people asking for help. Some get good honest advice and helpful answers, many are flamed and ridiculed into next week if they even hint that they dislike the parentheses.

The Common Lisp community (if you can call it that) is a bunch of really smart guys, but they all live isolated in hermit shacks up in the mountains and they spend their time doing magic tricks with Lisp that few people ever see, and if you wander too close they throw rocks at you.

What's the Common Lisp equivalent of perldoc or rdoc? We have the Hyperspec. It's an impressive document, but it's a bunch of painful HTML that looks like it was created in the early 90's, probably because it was. It reads like a dusty, dry, technical document probably because it is. What it's not, is friendly or easily readable.

Perl has CPAN, Ruby has rubygems, what does Lisp have? Either a hand-rolled system definition script, or if you're lucky an ASDF install file. ASDF is the semi-standard Lisp way of installing libraries, except that it doesn't quite work in Windows, it doesn't check dependencies or handle different versions of a package very well, and it doesn't work the same on all Lisp implementations. Many people in the so-called community think it's not very good.

The fellow running Lispcast makes another good point. Where can you download Lisp? It's not obvious.

You could say "OK Brian, good idea, now get to work!" The problem is that even if I had the time or willpower, I'm not the smartest guy in the world. I honestly don't think I could design and run and maintain a CPAN. And even if I did, would anyone use it? But I do know that there ARE plenty of smart, enthusiastic people using Lisp. Yet high-quality friendly code is largely not being produced.

Peter Christensen wrote about "langauge snobs" and the importance of community. One point made is that some really ugly, horrific languages have been extremely successful simply because they've been accessible and fun. An example given is the scripting language in Second Life, which has over 2.5 billion lines of code written in by tens of thousands of amateurs and has accurately modeled a realistic 3D environment with thousands of users at any given time. All in an ugly language some guy invented AND implemented in one week. The developers admit that the language is total crap, but it doesn't matter. 1) It has very good and accessible documentation, 2) it has a very newbie-friendly community, and 3) and it's easy to pick up, throw together some code and get immediate results. Three things Common Lisp lacks.

This is something I've said myself many times: an active, supportive, enthusiastic community is essential for the health of any programming language. Common Lisp simply doesn't have one and it's a shame.

I still secretly hope that Clojure or NewLisp or Arc turn out to be a huge success. They are the kinds of things Lisp needs today.

June 17, 2008 @ 4:47 PM PDT
Cateogory: Programming