I also blog frequently on the Yesod Web Framework blog, as well as the FP Complete blog.

Spreading the Gospel of Haskell

November 22, 2016

See a typo? Have a suggestion? Edit this page on Github

Yesterday I fired off two tweets about the state of Haskell evangelism:

But simply complaining about the state of things, instead of actually proposing a way to make things better, is a waste of 280 characters. So I'd like to expand on where I think we, the Haskell community, can do better.

Attacking Haskell's Flaws

As the Twitter discussion yesterday pointed out, there are undoubtedly flaws in Haskell. Every language has flaws. Haskell is blessed to also have some of the greatest strengths in any programming language available today: beautiful concurrency, a powerful and useful type system, a plethora of real-world libraries, and (as of recently) pretty good tooling and educational resources.

At FP Complete, we often talk about the attractors and obstacles (thanks to our CEO, Aaron Contorer, for this great prism to view things). Using that terminology: Haskell is chock-full of attractors. The problem is the obstacles which prevent Haskell from taking off. I'm going to claim that, at this point, we need to do very little as far as making Haskell more attractive, but instead need to collectively knock down obstacles preventing its success.

Obstacles can be a great many things, some of which you may have categorized as "missing attractors." Let me give some examples:

  • Missing IDE tooling. For some people, this is a deal-breaker, and will prevent them from using Haskell.
  • A missing library. Again, if someone needs to access, say, MS SQL Server, and a library doesn't exist, this is an obstacle to adoption. (Yes, that person could go ahead and write the library him/herself. If you think that's the right response, you probably shouldn't be reading this blog post.)
  • Lack of a tutorial/example/cookbook for a specific problem domain. Yes, someone could struggle through reading API docs until "it clicks." If that's your answer: also probably shouldn't be reading this post.
  • Lack of support for an OS/architecture.

The important thing about obstacles is that they are not universal. For most of us, lack of support for Haiku OS will not prevent us from using Haskell. Those of us who have been using Haskell for years have decided that the obstacles of bad tooling weren't enough to deter us from the great language features. And so on.

Prioritizing

Many people in the Haskell community have been chipping away at random obstacles (or adding random attractors) for years now, on a hobbyist basis. If that's all you want to do, more power to you, and enjoy. What I'm doing here is making a call for a more concerted, organized effort into knocking down these obstacles to Haskell adoption.

I'd say that we can measure how high a priority an obstacle-destroying action is based on two criteria:

  • How difficult it will be to accomplish
  • How big an impact it will have on Haskell adoption

I would call easy actions with big impact low hanging fruit, and recommend we focus on those actions for now. In other words, while improving GHC compile times may have a big impact, it's also difficult to accomplish. Similarly, changing the Haskell logo from purple to blue is easy to accomplish, but doesn't have much impact.

So my set of easy to do and big impact things entirely come down to spreading the word. I would say our biggest and easiest knocked-down obstacles are:

  • Someone's never heard of Haskell
  • Someone's heard of Haskell, but doesn't know why it's relevant
  • Someone's well aware of Haskell, but thinks it will be hard to start with
  • Someone's already tried Haskell and run into problems (like Dependency Hell), and doesn't realize we've solved them

So what does this entail? Here are my suggestions:

  • Write a blog post about how you solved a problem in Haskell
  • Give a talk at a conference on what problems Haskell is particularly good at solving (my money goes to concurrency on this)
  • Put together a screencast on Haskell
  • Encourage a non-Haskeller to go through the Haskell Book and Haskell Syllabus

The intention here to show the world that Haskell is ready to help them, and that it's easy to get started now. Many of us at FP Complete have been putting out such posts for a while. I'm asking others to join in the fun and help give Haskell adoption a kick-start.

One final request: if you've gotten this far, odds are you agree that we need to encourage users to take the most-likely-to-succeed route to Haskell, be that with tooling, training, library installation, or library selection. We've put a lot of effort into making haskell-lang.org the destination for that goal. Hopefully haskell.org can converge on this goal in the future, but for now it's very likely to just present another obstacle. When you tell people to get started with Haskell, I strongly recommend linking to https://haskell-lang.org/get-started.

Blog archive