Now, I happen to believe in this case that Guido is right, and that Python would indeed benefit from some serious marketing activity. Unfortunately it appears that the storm of responses (the count was almost at 70 last time I looked) has been generated mostly by people who have little or no idea what marketing is, and if they did would probably hold up their hands in horror and run away screaming "shameless commerce".
Some respondents appeared to find the whole idea of marketing offensive, and in so far as that's what led to Java's current popularity I can agree, because I happen to feel that Java has cost the industry a lot of money with its unnecessary straightjacket (see Java is Object-Oriented COBOL). But most people who took up the cudgels by commenting on Guido's blog (I deliberately avoided doing so myself) simply roll out the many reasons why Python is technically superior to Ruby/Perl/Java/my favourite language. These people are even more clueless than me about what drives the adoption of a programming language.
The key insights into promotion by marketing come from the realisation that you don't sell people things by focusing on the features of your product -- you have to explain the benefits instead. Sell the sizzle, as they say, and not the sausage. Anyone who is seriously interested in promoting Python should view Seth Godin's video presentation in the "Google Author Series". Seth is a marketing professional with a long history in the high-tech world, and his blog is worth keeping an eye on for occasional flashes relevant to the technical world. A valuable insight from the presentation is that word-of-mouth is the most effective way to promote anything: what we need is to tell everyone who asks (and even people who don't) how effectively Python can meet their needs. Clients aren't interested in whether I'm using Python, as long as I can help them solve their problems cost-effectively and in acceptable time.
This puts me in mind of a recent thread on comp.lang.python which started out as a discussion on whether it was a good idea to talk about Python as an interpreted language. Before it devolved into the inevitable discussion about what exactly constituted an interpreter and how all languages were interpreted because the CPU interprets instructions (c.l.py is sometimes an object lesson on topic diversion), there was a huge discussion about whether using the word interpreted to describe the language would engender negative perceptions.
From a marketing point of view, it really doesn't matter whether Python is an interpreted language or not. People want to know whether it's an effective way to solve their problems, so while interpreted is insignificant to meaningless from the point of view of many adopters, widely portable might not be. Of course the feature (interpreted) and the benefit (widely portable) are opposite sides of the same coin, but the difference in emphasis is crucial from a promotional point of view. Ultimately a potential adopter wants to know "What's in it for me?"
From a marketing point of view it seems to me that some of the most important aspects of the Python language are as follows:
- Easy to learn
- Easy to apply to a wide variety of problems
- Installed on every significant operating system
- Great networking support
- Large applications base to draw from
- Vibrant, helpful community
- Integrates easily with other languages
- Excellent literature from a range of publishers
One current problem seems to be that a lot of Python enthusiasts in the web world are concerned that another language (another rule of thumb: don't mention the competition by name) is getting more than its fair share of the buzz. They are trying to counter that buzz by focusing on Python's technical superiorities, without realising that the adopters of the "competition" aren't bothered about technical issues. They have found a solution for a range of problems, and they are adopting it to solve those problems.
It may be that as they try to extend those solutions they will come to realise that their adopted technology doesn't have the depth to extend in all the ways they want it. At that point the Python needs to be ready to reiterate the benefits of Python, and to show how it can be used to extend their existing solutions rather than forcing them to reqrite from scratch. Since the web world is already well-used to mixed-language and mixed-technology solutions this should be a breeze.
Ultimately the point of this blog is to try and help Python users to become more effectve advocates for their favourite language. We have a vested interest in seeing Python more widely used, so let's forget the features when we're discussing "Why Python" and focus on the benefits.