Notes Information Apocalypse

The problem with PHP

The meme of PHP's deeper language problems and <a href=/is-php-doomed">possible extinction</a> has bubbled to the surface again from various recent discussions, but my views on this are very different to what they used to be. I'm now seeing the situation less in terms of <a href=/static-late-binding">language level flaws</a>, and more in terms of people's attitudes towards communication in the PHP ecosystem. The new question I want to pose is whether PHP can survive in the emerging climate of more user friendly interaction being demanded of open source software projects. This comment by Derick Rethans on Dagfinn Reiersol's thoughts about enums, entitled "Wrong Place" sums up my doubts:

Your blog has no meaning for the PHP developers, as they're way to busy with other things - remember that.

I don't want this to be misconstrued as an personal attack on Derick - whose work on PHP I appreciate and have a lot of respect for - but I just have to call this comment out as utter bullshit which sends a message that the core language team are disdainful of any discussion and feedback that falls outside their little ritualistic RFC dance. Dagfinn was interested enough to write a post about it, summarizing what he found frustrating, and how a common language feature would be nice to use in PHP. Why assume that he is likely to have the time or inclination to write a formal RFC with the corollary that if he doesn't, then his suggestions are of no value? While Derick's suggestion of how to contribute to PHP may be helpful, the tone he uses gives off the impression that he considers the original post to be a waste of time, and is suggesting that it never should have been posted at all.

The adversarial nature of the PHP core team concerns me. They don't seem to appreciate that people like Dagfinn are one of the reasons why PHP is so successful - writers who spread information, tricks, and tips to users of the language. Nobody is asking the PHP developers to read every single random blog post about PHP - but broadcasting the message that feedback on PHP language features is misguided unless it slavishly follows their process is far worse than not paying attention at all. It seems like a misanthropic and aggressive approach to encouraging contribution, given that there can never be a "wrong place" for discussion and dialogue about ideas.

Whatever you might see the technical flaws or merits of the language being, it's this kind of attitude that is the real problem with PHP.

Telling a user (an author of a book about PHP no less) that their criticism "has no meaning" gives off a certain impression of the PHP core developers' approach to public relations and it does not look good. It also illustrates that words matter a lot. Representatives of open source projects need to be very careful about how they communicate in the open environment of internet discussions. Whether they think they are or not, anyone publicly involved in a major software project will be acting as a visible representative of that project when they post online and the impression they make counts a lot more than they might think.