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Why does PerlMonks work?

by dws (Chancellor)
on Jul 13, 2003 at 04:36 UTC ( [id://273733] : monkdiscuss . print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

How has Perlmonks managed build a useful, cohesive community when so many other "community" sites have failed, either by fizzling out or imploding. What's special about this place? What dynamics keep this place special (or even workable)?

If you're of a mind to puzzle over questions like these, I highly recommend a recent essay by Clay Shirky, titled A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy. There, Shirky talks about some non-obvious aspects of group dynamics, and then shows how on-line communities either adapt to group dynamics or don't.

Without giving anything away, Perlmonks does a bunch of stuff right.

Go. Read. Ponder. There's some good stuff there that we'll get back to later.

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by cLive ;-) (Prior) on Jul 13, 2003 at 05:10 UTC

    Two words. Approachable people.

    When I first joined (seems way back, but only a couple of years), I found the following:

    • good advice - I am now 100% using strict and warnings (and taint on new code)
    • any poster that talked down to someone was chastised - even if they were technically right and tone was unintentional. And the chastisement is generally informational rather than a slap on the wrist - some of us need to code better, some of us need to communicate better - but we're ALL learning :)
    • encouragement

    And it helps that there's a core of great people (they know who they are :) who always manage to answer even the harshest posts without malice, and who do their utmost to stop the (few) flame wars from getting out of control.

    Now if only paco would come back...

    cLive ;-)

The spinning wheels of PM quality engine
by gmax (Abbot) on Jul 13, 2003 at 10:06 UTC

    PerlMonks works because, among other things, it promotes self improvement.

    By attending and partecipating in PM exchange of information, you become involved in the Perl culture. The Monastery system of peer review makes you aware of your limits as well as your strength.

    You become a better programmer simply staying here and playing by the rules. The peer review encourages everybody to write only (well mostly) good code, appropriate comments, sound advice. If you know that a few thousand well trained pairs of eyes are going to check waht you say, you want to make sure that your posts are of good, if not excellent quality before they go to the general scrutiny.

    It is like playing chess. You don't become a Grandmaster by playing to the average woodpushers. You must enter the arena and face the best players. It isn't easy, but it's the only way.

    So the main element for PM success is the community driven moderation system tuned for quality.

     _  _ _  _  
    (_|| | |(_|><
(jeffa) Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by jeffa (Bishop) on Jul 13, 2003 at 16:00 UTC
    According to the article, because we accept that:
    1. we "cannot completely separate technical and social issues."
      - I am still trying to wrap my brain around this (some might consider that we do ... posting versus the CB)
    2. "members are different than users."
      - We have a set of core users that truly care about this site. User of all sorts come and go, but we have enough core users (and plenty of those who want to be) to hopefully ensure the integrity of our community.
    3. "the core group has rights that trump individual rights in some situations."
      - We have editors, gods, and power users that work to make sure that our community maintains it's integrity.
    and because the site was designed to (or at least modified to):
    1. have "handles the user can invest in."
      - And not only do we provide identity, we still allow anonymity.
    2. have "members in good standing."
      - Best Nodes, Monks by Writeup Count, and Saints in our Book are some of the ways that we reward these members.
    3. have "barriers to participation."
      - Anyone can post, but only those attain Novice are allowed to vote. Also, only registered users can vote at the polls, send private /msg's, and use the CB.
    4. "spare the group from scale."
      - I think this means that we can prevent a hoard of people joining our community because 1) we limit the discussions to mostly Perl and 2) our level system weeds out flakey participants.
    All in all, this was a really good read. Thanks for pointing it out dws. :)


    (the triplet paradiddle with high-hat)
      barriers to participation

      There's also the site design as a whole. It's not got the lowest barrier to entry in the world :-)

      spare the group from scale
      See, this is something that's been nagging at my mind lately. Simple logic would dictate that easier distribution of information (which encompasses both sharing of resources and social interaction in one big honkin' swoop) would allow a monolithic organization to stay more monolithic, that it could communicate more effectively, that it could act more swiftly as a unit, etc.

      The result is otherwise, and I think the reason has to do with people not being smart enough to know the best plan. Short version, although everybody can cooperate in a way that is most effective to them as a group, they do not.

      You get a group that's too large, it splinters, becomes topheavy, becomes sluggish, etc., because as it encompasses more and more humans, it has a greatly expanding range of motives driving their involvement. Eventually, a small subset of them may locate common interests and remove themselves from the larger group (i.e., the small research consortium composed of a handful of researchers from some huge corporate R&D division) or if enough of the individuals have goals completely counter to the prime goal, then it's possible that their actions, due to chaotic "magnification", could crowd out the attempts on the part of the "group" to persevere. (My understanding is that this is what happened to Webvan, in a way. Statements from employees indicated that a significant portion of the employees did not want to perform at their jobs. In a world where pizza delivery is approaching perfection, not delivering something is akin to kicking the customer in the ass. Word-of-mouth coupled with a significant portion of non-functional employees could destroy a company easily, IMHO.)

      So it's interesting to note that a focused goal, as long as it excludes most people, is possible to achieve. Apparently being a successful community is, in part, knowing who to alienate.

      You are what you think.

Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by Anonymous Monk on Jul 13, 2003 at 04:49 UTC

    Three things:

    1. The chatterbox. It creates an accessible medium to talk to other members of this site. This greatly reduces the amount of faqs and questions regarding typos in code, etc. It also reduces flames by showing that it's an actual person posting that node, not just a name.
    2. An attractive, clean display system and the ability the modify it to suit your tastes.
    3. Most of all, as with all such sites, you need the management of the site to only intervene when necessary and maintain a healthy level of communication with its membership. A core group of users devoted to the site is also essential for setting an example for all users to come.

    Nice job with the site :)

      Helpful people abound here.
Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by barrd (Canon) on Jul 13, 2003 at 13:10 UTC
    Funny, for the first time I was compelled to look up the word community in a dictionary. Why funny? Well, I spent my informative years growing up in a New Age Commune and had never before felt drawn to really study or define what a community is.

    Entry "3(b): Sharing, participation, and fellowship" from the community link above I thought rather well defined my idea of not only the place I grew up in but the community I have come to admire and respect here at Perlmonks.

    As dws asks "What's special about this place"?;
    My thoughts are:

    1. ~ Respect & fellowship.
      Too often I have seen other 'sites' degrade into a mosh pit of racial intolerance and hatefest of right-wing fanatics driveling their propaganda to squash any new ideas or opinions. Not so here. I respect that.
    2. ~ Stickiness.
      Apart from the obvious chatterbox and XP systems I have found that the quality of posts found around the monastery to be 'the main' reason for me coming back. If I had a quid1 for every time I've caught myself saying "blimey - I didn't know you could do that..." I'd have amassed enough for a... kebab... or something... ;) Seriously though, there are some truly amazing Perl and non Perl related posts to be found here - congratulations to all who have submitted and contributed.
    3. ~ use strict; use warnings;
      Education, alright I admit it, before coming here I *never* used strict (/me ducks) I used that as an example to show that learning from others has been a great boon to me and my coding. I am now, by far, a better coder than I was before finding and joining this place.
    4. ~ Moderation and consideration.
      Not only at the technical level of manipulating nodes, but also at the human level of maintaining a congenial atmosphere. PM has almost made me regain my faith in human nature ;)
    Thank you all for making Perlmonks the wonderful oasis that it is in the madness otherwise know as the InterWeb.

    Update: 1 $currency =~ s/quid/buck/i if $monks_country ne 'UK';

      I see the use strict notion as The third pattern Bion identified: Religious veneration (from the cited paper) :-)
Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by Coruscate (Sexton) on Jul 13, 2003 at 05:46 UTC

    I'm all for saying that what keeps PerlMonks running so smoothly is so complex that it is impossible to analyze it in great detail. The most important aspect is of course the people. We have such a diverse community here and I think that makes a big difference. We also have a large number of members who are passionate about the site and its topic (that always seems to help). You can make attempts at taking PerlMonks and tearing it apart at the seams, but we have way too much going on here for anyone to understand it all. :)

    If anything, the title of your node should say "How does PerlMonks _not_ work?" Bet you'd get fewer answers :)

    If the above content is missing any vital points or you feel that any of the information is misleading, incorrect or irrelevant, please feel free to downvote the post. At the same time, please reply to this node or /msg me to inform me as to what is wrong with the post, so that I may update the node to the best of my ability.

Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by Abigail-II (Bishop) on Jul 13, 2003 at 11:35 UTC
    It's not so much the site as the audience. It's quite "in-crowd". A relative small group of Perl users tend to group together, and hence the popularity of the Perl usenet groups, #perl, the mailing lists, the Mongers groups, websites like this and, and the conferences. But you see the same people over and over again.


Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by fredopalus (Friar) on Jul 13, 2003 at 12:27 UTC
    Perlmonks and the community it created is loved because Perl is also loved. Perl's flexible and eclectic style make it easier and even fun to work with, yet Perl isn't a very popular language(compared to C, C++, Java...). This makes a more unique and closer crowd to move towards it.

    And besides, with a name like PerlMonks, you know it's for the more hardcore perl programmers. People go to Usenet first because they're not interested in Perl enough to try somewhere else.
Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by BrowserUk (Patriarch) on Jul 13, 2003 at 15:06 UTC

    I think it comes down to one thing: tolorance.

    Or perhaps more proactively(*): an intolorance of intolorance.

    Perhaps coupled with the single-minded focus and swift but lightly exercised use of managerial control.

    Perhaps the remarkable thing is that these two things are often mutually exclusive. That they coexist here is something that requires more than my abilities to try and explain.

    (*)This is the first time I've used that word since a few management reports I wrote in the late 80's and early 90's

    Examine what is said, not who speaks.
    "Efficiency is intelligent laziness." -David Dunham
    "When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong." -Richard Buckminster Fuller

      tolorance... intolorance of intolorance.

      Ahh! I can't take it anymore!




      Heh, sorry ;-)

        Dat's s'ok, I can teke it. S'all dahn to me axent yer see. I speels fonetically, but I've got an arfull axent, so it all comes aht wrong.

        Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry (wit) bones...

        Examine what is said, not who speaks.
        "Efficiency is intelligent laziness." -David Dunham
        "When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong." -Richard Buckminster Fuller

Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by adrianh (Chancellor) on Jul 13, 2003 at 17:01 UTC
Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by naChoZ (Curate) on Jul 13, 2003 at 18:57 UTC
    I agree with everyone's comments. People's opinion of this place borders on spiritual. While the comments in this thread discuss the lofty concepts and ideas behind the reason this place is great, let's not forget the small stuff though.

    Simple things like XP. I'm not talking about XP whoring really. Just that, personally, it makes me think about the quality of my posts more, as I'm sure others do as well. Even when I'm in a pissy mood and someone's post might rub me the wrong way, I think about my post and if my mood shows, I rewrite it. Re: Non-English posts on Perlmonks, was one such node, after I read the preview it got rewritten before submission and it almost hit a 30 rep.

    Aside from inspiring a conscientiousness in posting, it is also a way to learn what a quality post is. Despite all the excellent documentation on how to write quality posts, I still think people need to learn by getting their feet wet and trying it out.

    Plus, I've yet to see the level of user participation that exists here in terms of site management, development, and maintenance. It makes me aspire to be a stronger participator as well. pmdev, Editors, they're made up of real people. Other sites almost have a dictatorship quality about it. Even to the point of disclaiming, "it's our way or the highway..." Perlmonks has a very democratic feel to it that is unparalleled.


      Well, I just got here, but I think its got to be the information, and where does the information come from? The People. It seems to me like the people here make it work, a lot of people know a lot of stuff. I think this generally applies to the whole Perl community as well. Ever since I started coding Perl I've noticed that people seem to just be way happier talking about it then any of the other languages. Perhaps perlmonks works so well, because Perl just works so well. Seems like everything I want to do in Perl is easier to do than it sounds, and it seems like everything I can't figure out right away is here. Thanks Everyone, keep up the goodwork!
Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by hsmyers (Canon) on Jul 13, 2003 at 14:21 UTC
    People! At least that seems to be the obvious answer to me. For what ever reason PM has attracted a critical mass (self substaining etc.) of folks who care enough to be involved on a more than simply passive basis. Having said that it occurs to me that whatever the reason(s), it does look like it is something that attaches to both perl the language and perl the community. The closest similar such is the TeX world, but it isn't anywhere near as comfortable. Much what you would expect with its primarily academic roots. Perhaps pragmatism is a more communal basis?


    "Never try to teach a pig to wastes your time and it annoys the pig."
Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by allolex (Curate) on Jul 13, 2003 at 18:40 UTC

    Why does Perl Monks work?

    I think the main reason is the atmosphere at the Monastery. Even if one discounted its constant presence of experts in the various timezones necessary for getting quick answers, our cloister would still work because one monk's knowledge tends to complement another's; so many monks are willing to share what they know, whatever their individual motivations may be.

    I think most of us can answer your question through introspection. I just asked myself how I feel about participating in this community. Apart from some flirtations with IRC about 10 years ago, I never really had any interest in on-line forums---and this despite my desperately needing help. People tend to behave in the manner others expect them to. Here in the Monastery, the expectations are high.


    Update 2003-07-13 20:44:33 CEST: I probably should add that I actually did read the article. I especially enjoyed the reference to "religious veneration". At least we're honest here ;)

Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by johndageek (Hermit) on Jul 14, 2003 at 17:32 UTC
    Compare Perlmonks to organized groups that work:
    Religious , political or employment.

    Groups that work need:
    Dedicated leadership.
    A goal.
    Watchers (potential members).
    Members - people who agree with the goal and will be counted as such.

    How these pieces interact determine the longevity of the group. The goal must be a statement of general direction (e.g. improving the Perl language and expanding it's usage). Leaders must be empowered to rebuke those in the group who incite rebelion to the goal(downvoting, remove a node), and to encourage those who work toward the goal(upvote and frontpaging a node). Members must be dedicated to the cause as well as evangelizing for the group. Watchers are those who have been evangelized, or happen upon the group by chance.

    There must be enough freedom to discuss radical new ideas, on topic ideas, as well as some off topic thoughts. There must be a way to get feedback from those who count (leaders, members and watchers each weighted by proven responsibility to the group goal).

    A method of allowing a person to move between the striations in the group. (watcher, member, leader - see levels within the Perlomonks). Rites of passage must be in place to let each member know their standing in the group as well as the standing of other members. These rites are important as the personal cost of each rite validates the members dedication to the group goal.

    Once formed, a surviving group will be dynamic. Membership will change over time, with new members exceeding attrition. Leadership will change slowly as new people are added to the ranks of leadership roles, upper level leaders will share the position, take lesser leadership positions or step down from leadership positions as they see fit (dedication to the group goal). Changes to the core methodology of the group will also need to occur, but should only happen as they are proven to be beneficial to the goal of the group.

    The goal may change, but then the basis for the group has changed and the original group will have to be considered dead (even if kept alive in name).

    Thought was provoked, and shared. (a sense of humor helps most groups as well)


Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by talexb (Chancellor) on Jul 14, 2003 at 16:42 UTC
      "But we paid for this! This is the Clairol site!" Doesn't matter. The users are there for one another. They may be there on hardware and software paid for by you, but the users are there for one another.

      That in a nutshell is what Perl Monks means to me. Perl Monks users are there for one another. Something A posted a long time ago is useful to B, and B writes something that C enjoyed, and C made some comment that D found useful, and A dropped by after a hiatus and read something D posted and really liked it.

      What a great place.

      --t. alex
      Life is short: get busy!
Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by zby (Vicar) on Jul 14, 2003 at 16:11 UTC
    Comparison with Slashdot (our favorite n'est ce pas?):
    • There is more structure in PM - ranks with different powers as opposed to slasdot moderation power in simple relation to the linear karma, user groups like gods, pmdev etc.
    • Slashdot seems to fall to The third pattern Bion identified: Religious veneration.
Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by karmacide (Acolyte) on Jun 05, 2004 at 03:08 UTC
    Let's put it this way. I joined Perlmonks a while back, and just lurked. Although I've programmed for a while, I'm only a bioinformatician, so a lot of the really technical stuff goes over my head. And when I did finally post a question it was just programming related, not PERL related.

    Nevertheless, in half an hour two saints (one writes for O'Reilly!) and a monk responded with really useful feedback! No flames or rubbish, just honest to goodness consideration.

    That's what makes PerlMonks, a consideration and willingness to help others. It would be different (and bad) if this place were called PERL 5cr1ptk1dd135!

    Thanks for all your help monks!

Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by uksza (Canon) on Dec 15, 2004 at 23:21 UTC
    I'm quite new PM, but I can say, that everything is true:
    Our monastery is helpful and countenance us for study, is full of friendship and partnership etc etc...
    But, there is something more: not flame war and patience
    Rare think - pearl of Perl Monks...

      Not flame war and patience? We blame tye. (Language warning on that link)
Re: Why does Perlmonks work?
by fraktalisman (Hermit) on Mar 10, 2004 at 23:51 UTC
    Am I a watcher, a member? Often I come to Perlmonks to look up some answer or solution, and if I don't find one, post a question.
    A few times, like now, I take the time to browse newest nodes, best nodes etc., to read and maybe also write something without the pressure to get things done. It seems to me some people have more time to read and give answers, or there are just so many monks around now, so everyone finds time to answer some node some time.
    How much average time do you spend with Perlmonks?