[erlang-questions] Erlang as a tool for human communication -- was GUI development

Lloyd R. Prentice lloyd@REDACTED
Fri Dec 22 07:03:02 CET 2017


This is a think piece that may run longer than prudent for this forum. But if not here, then where? It is motivated by the recent thread re: GUI development and various other threads re: Erlang documentation. It asks serious questions that may or may not be worthy of reflection and discussion across the Erlang community.

Here's a little about me, not to toot my horn, but to clarify where I'm coming from. 

I've been striving to become reasonably proficient in Erlang for nearly four years now. I come with experience in software development, but in no way consider myself a professional programmer. My undergraduate education is in English language/liberal arts with a focus on creative writing; communication and national development was my focus in grad school. I was for seven years on the full-time faculty at Boston University's School for Public Communication. I was founding editor/publisher of Classroom Computer News, one of the first magazines focused on personal computers in the K-12 classroom. My company. Prentice Associates Incorporated developed more than 100 shrink-wrapped educational/consumer software products for leading U.S. publishers. My company also developed a major web application for marketing and managing world-class IT conferences Among other things, I write fiction; have three novels in print.  I could go on, but you get the picture.

I come to Erlang with a vision of a web community devoted to helping indie authors/publishers write and market better books. I was attracted by the reliability/scalability promise of Erlang. But it's been a hard slog learning Erlang and bringing my vision to fruition, taking far longer than I would have hoped, leavened only by the generous help from many members of this community.

At this point, my understanding is that Erlang is a terrific language for distributed back-end systems and, to some extent, scalable web applications. But my sense is that the Erlang community is smaller than the merits of the language deserves, has an aging community and, rather than organic growth, seems to be fragmenting into a cluster of BEAM languages that don't, from what I've seen, bring much vitality back to Erlang OTP.

The question I've asked myself over recent months is, "Why doesn't Erlang have more libraries supporting human communication with the same effectiveness with which it supports machine-to-machine communication?"

The recent thread GUI development thread is Exhibit Number One. 

The various stalemated Erlang-questions threads on Erlang documentation is Exhibit Number Two.

Loïc Hoguin has done some nice work on documentation tools. I do wish they were more widely used and, themselves, better documented.

This makes me wonder why we don't eat our own dog food, that is, develop and adopt standardized documentation tools written in Erlang and fluent across all media?

Wings3D is, from what I've read, an effective 3D CAD system. But I don't hear much about it or see how it's libraries or components are of value to the Erlang community. Perhaps there are hidden jewels in the Wings3D code that could support GUI development.

Joe Armstrong has been experimenting with music production. I love to see more documentation of his work. Can his work be extended to broader audio applications?

A few folks have been working with video streaming. Wouldn't it be great to see tutorials and well-documented open source libraries and tools.

Erlang Nitrogen goes a long way toward easing the pains of web development. But it could go much further with broader support. These days, poor Jesse Gumm is just about it.

I'm not sure what's going on with Chicago Boss. That seems to be on Jesse's shoulders as well.

The content management framework Zotonic is terrific in every dimension. But you have to move out of Erlang and to hop across several syntactic boundaries to use it. Mark Worrell has been talking for some time about "Elastic Zotonic," e.g. distributed Zotonic. Is he thinking Riak? I don't know, but wouldn't that be cool.

I've been pulling my hair out over the past year trying to bend erlguten, the not-well-documented six-year-old library for generating PDF documents, to my needs. It's a gem in the rough that could provide the basis for a powerful suite of print and digital media production tools.

Just today I learned that erlguten has been maintained and in production at Klarna and that within the past year Richard Carlsson has released a MIT-licensed "canonical" version on GitHub. Yippee!


Richard's road map is dead congruent with what I've been trying to accomplish in support of Writersglen, the project that has absorbed my nearly every waking thought over the past half decade.

Many of the things that I want to do in Writersglen could be accomplished in other languages and with tools and applications written in those languages. But I want to work in Erlang. I don't see any technical obstacles to building better human communication libraries and tools in Erlang. Selfishly, I don't have enough years ahead to learn other languages. I want to build my web community. I want to build it in Erlang. And I wish I'd been able to launch it two years ago.

But beyond my own interests, my hypothesis is this: With more well-documented and polished open source libraries and applications focused on human communication, Erlang would attract a wider, more diverse, population of programmers and developers. This, in turn, would result in a more vibrant community and wider adoption of Erlang.

Am I wrong? 

If not, what can we do to make it happen?

Perhaps the problem is that we don't have an appropriate venue or forum for sharing ideas.

All the best and happy holidays,


Sent from my iPad
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