Comments on 2019-12-21 Who controls a programming language?

Thank you for the summary and whirlwind tour.

As someone that works in open source software for research libraries, one observation we’ve had is that we have come to need specifications more than implementations. The underlying languages can change but if things are built to specs, in theory we have portability.

My team is participating on a grant for the infrastructure of Emulation as a Service (with several other institutions across the globe) as well as software/data preservation. These two go hand in hand regarding the apocalypse.

Personally, I’m more interested in the artifacts generated than the processes used to generate them (e.g. I value my static website more than the scripts that generate it, though I appreciate them very much). So something like the Oxford Common File Layout (OCFL) is very appealing.

Jeremy Friesen 2019-12-21 21:01 UTC


@holger also wondered about Rust and Smalltalk.

Rust has a big long page full of teams and working groups but I don’t see who’s calling the shots. Do you? The core team? But who set up these rules and who can change them?

Smalltalk – Wikipedia links to ANSI Smalltalk Standard, which mentions a document number, ANSI INCITS 319-1998. I guess it’s like Common Lisp which has the document number ANSI INCITS 226-1994. And thus all the caveats regarding standards mentioned in the blog post apply: membership fees, amount of time and energy involved, funding.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-12-21 23:01 UTC


Good that you are making this summary. I was kind of lost in that discussion on Masto 🙂

Of course, there is still one more option - create your own language, make it popular a control it... You can also make an organization for standardizing it - something like ALIS - Alex Schroeder Institute of Standardization 🙂

Peter Kotrčka 2019-12-25 10:30 UTC


Haha. 😀

The reason that kicked it all off was the general anti-Google sentiment I’m seeing everywhere extending to the programming language Go, which took hold of me because of the Java struggle in Oracle vs. Google due to Android, and then wondering: how justified is this aversion, actually? And how are other la gauges better or worse?

It’s been very enlightening because I had never actually taken the time to go and look for the information on governance.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-12-25 20:47 UTC


Yeah, but.. everyone is jumping to this “new languages” train, be it Go or Rust.. and 99% does not really care - although, I think there was a debate about a Google logo on the Go webpage...so, maybe I am just not seeing those antigooglers so often.

Peter Kotrčka 2019-12-25 23:50 UTC


One theme of your post seems to be that in too many cases, there’s no formal guarantee of influence for many ordinary people – to make sure the future of some programming language is not simply decided on the basis of profit or the politics of some corporation.

You seem to assume that by means of a formal majority vote, the influence of corporations can be avoided easily. I agree that it can be avoided to some extent. However, only to some extent: A formal majority vote forces corporations to influence the people, i.e. to influence the decision indirectly by means of mass manipulation (which is what the really big corporations, like Facebook, Google, Amazon are specialized on, because this is an essential part of their business model).

Looking at e.g. the history of germany, it is obvious that there is no strong guarantee the majority vote won’t be used to give power to a few evil people in the end. Also, if I may judge that you favour simplicity, you will probably agree that the mainstream in programming culture is not always rational – it is heavily influenced by what the “best practices” of the industry are.

IMHO democracy doesn’t help when your culture is broken. The real focus must be on (re-)discovering and entering deeper into the truth (the “right culture”, whatever that is) itself (this also applies to our society in general).

– Anonymous 2020-01-06 19:51 UTC


Both aspects are true. The part I liked about the R bylaws for examples was corporate members – no matter how big! – seem to get just one vote. And don’t forget that lessons were learned by democracies as well. Many countries have the law, and a constitution, and changing the constitution takes a whole lot more. Germany, for example, has these fundamental rights, too. Changing them is harder. It’s not perfect by any means, and the trust in institutions, the culture around the legal frameworks is just as important (one of key points the What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law podcast is trying to make).

So yeah, no guarantees, but still safeguards.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-06 21:23 UTC


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