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The early history of Perlmonks

by tilly (Archbishop)
on Mar 30, 2009 at 07:53 UTC ( #754085=monkdiscuss: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

This started as a reply to history of perlmonks website, and then I decided to make it a root node instead. This is an outline of early events at the start of the site that most people do not know about.

As everyone knows, Tim Vroom was the person who started the site. At the time he was working for BlockStackers Inc, which was associated with and

As far as I can figure out, the site began acquiring real content on Dec 23, 1999. The first two real-looking users that I can find are yiango and cinder_bdt. The next user created is the first truly active user, BBQ. The first real question was #!/usr/bin/perl T-shirts. It is hard to figure out what those early conversations were because there are a lot of missing nodes. For instance RE: RE: #!/usr/bin/perl T-shirts looks like it belongs in that thread but it was a reply to node 1371 which no longer exists.

The first well-known Perl person to join was chromatic. Of course at the time he was not a particularly well-known Perl person. In fact he was a co-worker of Tim Vroom's. This suggests that the site, while somewhat functional, was not yet public. Which fits with the fact that vroom once told me that the site was initially seeded with some real content so that the first outside users wouldn't realize how empty it was. But don't dismiss this early content. Internally created users like N-Wing are real people who still show up from time to time. And some look like interesting people - for instance nine9. Plus some of the early material they created actually was real - for instance "Stranger and Stranger" is certainly a real question. (There were a few other nodes as he tried to get the code in question posted for help - that is waaay too much work for fake content.)

This makes it hard for me to say exactly when the site was opened to the public. How do you tell the seeded content from that provided by outside users? Also they had a job for a while that would delete answered questions. (Why? My guess is that they thought that answered questions weren't interesting, and frequently asked questions would wind up in something like Categorized Questions and Answers. Things didn't quite work that way...) So a lot of the early content is gone.

But my best guess is that content from a week later is mostly real. For instance I don't believe Rhandom ever worked for BlockStackers. But I don't know for sure. The site was still under active development at that time. For instance NodeReaper's first victim was RE: POETRY!!! (Jan 9). Which was posted 1 day before the earliest user that I have met who was not internal to the development of the site (japhy). The first certified Perl luminary on the site was merlyn (Apr 25, 2000). I joined Aug 04, 2000.

At the time that I joined, the site already had a well-established user base and was producing a lot of good content. For the most part the culture was pretty good. However there was a clique that had driven away a number of technically competent people. As I have mentioned before, they weren't that fun to deal with. However they didn't last too long, in large part because it quickly became apparent to everyone that most users didn't agree with their agenda.

As a result I'd say that if you were familiar with Perlmonks in late 2000, then fell through a time warp to 2009, you'd find it a fairly familiar place. Sure, there is more material and history. The names of the active people have changed. But the culture mostly stabilized in that first year. While it experienced ups and downs, on the whole it has remained fairly good, and has lasted a lot longer than I would have ever expected.

Moving forward, I don't remember exactly when NodeReaper gained the ability to shut people out of chatter. However I can say for sure that Alex the Serb was the first person who NodeReaper was seriously used on. (I was actually the person who first pulled the trigger on him. I lost that ability on an extended absence from the site...) Alex's issue was quite simple - he was a Serb who was outraged at the American intervention in the Serbo-Croatian war. And was outraged at anyone who he even suspected did not see the US involvement as a bad thing. And was prone to expressing his outrage with long rants and much swearing. While I completely understand how upsetting it is to have your home bombed, his mode of expressing his feelings wasn't exactly what we wanted in the chatterbox...

However as successful as the site was as a community, it wasn't so successful as a business proposition. As a result in this poll vroom indicated that he was losing his job. This happened in April, 2001. The addition of an Offering Plate didn't quite cut it. Luckily for us vroom continued donating time to us after he lost his job. Then YAS stepped in to keep the site going. They gave us to The Perl Foundation when that was spun off later in the same year. The following year Pair Networks began hosting us. Over time maintenance moved from vroom to a team of volunteers, with tye and jdporter being among the most notable contributers.

So if you've ever wondered whether The Perl Foundation actually does anything for the Perl community, well now you know. This site nearly went away like so many others in the dot com crash. It is only due to their help and the generosity of Pair Networks that it still exists.

I could easily go on. For instance I've said nothing about some of the great content that people came here for. But this post is long enough already, so I'll leave it as what it is and let other people share their experiences/views of the past.

Comment on The early history of Perlmonks
Re: The early history of Perlmonks
by chromatic (Archbishop) on Mar 30, 2009 at 17:50 UTC
    In fact he was a co-worker of Tim Vroom's.

    I didn't join BlockStackers until late summer 2000. I had contributed to the Everything Engine before this point, before Everything2 came about. It was in those days. I believe PerlMonks was the first real use of the newer version of EE (0.8 compared to 0.7), but I don't remember when E2 started versus when PM started.

    As I recall, the site was first open to the public just before Christmas in 1999. I may have had some inside knowledge, thanks to contributing a few patches and discussing some design with Nate Oostendorp on EE, but I don't believe I'd met vroom even virtually before PM started.

      Ah. That timeline means that by the time I first would have become aware of the relationship, you were already at BlockStackers. I just assumed that you had been there for a while. My bad.

      In that case I'd guess that the site actually was open Dec 23, but the only people who knew about it were ones who had some connection (eg through Everything) to nate or vroom.

Re: The early history of Perlmonks
by Gavin (Canon) on Mar 30, 2009 at 18:05 UTC

    "I could easily go on. For instance I've said nothing about some of the great content that people came here for."

    Thanks very much for what you have already documented tilly but I think that I am not alone in wishing you to continue with your memories of the early days.

    Unless it is documented by those that know how will it be passed on to those that don't?

      About half of what I wrote about actually happened before I arrived. That isn't memories, that is going back and looking at old nodes and guessing what happened. If you want memories you'd have to ask the people who were there like vroom, BBQ and chromatic. As for what happened later, I have only been an off and on participant in the Monastery, so I don't actually know what the major events were. The best person to speak to that is someone who has been around and involved. Someone like tye or jdporter.

      When it comes to content, there is a lot of personal opinion there. I think every person develops their own archive of great posts that they remember for individual reasons. Speaking for myself, I've forgotten more great posts than I remember. If I came up with a personal list, I'd be embarrassed at what I've left out. But personally I'd love to see a feature to be able to go back historically by day, week, month or year to see what the top nodes for that time period. IMHO this would be a very interesting addition to Best Nodes.

      Also it might go a long way towards combating the feeling people have that they've missed the best parts. When you come and see nearly a decade of accumulated content, it is easy to be amazed at how much is there. When you remember all of the high points, it is easy to be amazed at how many there are. But when you look at that history month by month or week by week, you realize that we are still laying down lots of good content. The process hasn't stopped, and I suspect hasn't really slowed that much. But it is hard to get historical perspective on it.

        Again many thanks tilly, I think that its both interesting and important that the history behind and early beginings of PerlMonks is documented.

        Perhaps the initial instigators and early users you mention vroom, BBQ, chromatic, tye, jdporter and any others with anecdotes will add their reminisces and stories to this node so that it becomes the de facto history of PM.

        Well, since I've been a user a week longer than you, I feel I can fill the gaps.

        No, seriously, I also joined at the end of 2000 and then was absent from the site for some years. I didn't notice that a clique had formed and dissolved, so I can at least confirm that the culture is consistent between then and now.

        - Boldra
Re: The early history of Perlmonks
by dwm042 (Priest) on Mar 30, 2009 at 18:51 UTC
    tilly++. This is a terrific node.
Re: The early history of Perlmonks
by jdporter (Canon) on Mar 30, 2009 at 20:21 UTC
    I don't remember exactly when NodeReaper gained the ability to shut people out of chatter.

    The two essential infrastructural nodes were created on 2001-02-02. One, borged users, is the data table containing whatever users are borged at the moment. The other, borg's belly, displays that data table. At that time, only gods (presumably) were able to add and delete users in that table. Five days later, the power users group was created, so that specially deputized users other than gods could keep the cb decent.

    Alex the Serb joined on 2001-05-27. He didn't post until December of that year, and it's possible he wasn't otherwise active on the site until that time.

    There were some significant changes (upgrades) in the borg-related infrastructure in 2002-06.
    (Book 'em, Danno - nodelet for the power users group (unused); message - (patch) - implements borg'y stuff; borg - executes the borg command.)
    It's possible, I guess, that these were motivated by a surge in troll activity.

    Between the mind which plans and the hands which build, there must be a mediator... and this mediator must be the heart.
      Thank you for that detail. My very fallible memory suggests that he began occupying chatter much earlier. When I woke up and logged in he was in the middle of a rant. I borged him, then found out that he had been going for 2 hours. That day we added several new power users on different time zones so we wouldn't have a hole while people were asleep in North America.

      I cannot say anything about what happened in 2002-06 because that happened during an extended period when I wasn't here.

        "I cannot say anything about what happened in 2002-06 because that happened during an extended period when I wasn't here."
        I would suspect that A Level Playing Field, late in 2005, was probably one of the most significant changes at the monastery during that time.


      These were created just after DiscoStu's extended campaign of stupidity, both in the chatterbox and in nodespace, in January 2001. While there had been trolls before, DiscoStu was the catalyst for the creation of many of the controls we have on the site now; I think users today would be surprised at how minimal the infrastructure was in 2000.

      As far as when the site was opened to the public: I became a user Feb 17, 2000 in order to ask a question, but I had known about the site for some time before that because a "slashbox" for it appeared over on SlashDot (in fact, I was rather annoyed with myself later for having waited so long to join; I was no longer cool for being early!). pschoonveld was a real user, and not a part of BlockStackers, so far as I am aware; he answered a question from CmdrTaco on December 2nd, 1999.

      I think that there was a certain ebullience about the site itself, and the community, early on that we no longer see; you were much more likely to see technical marvels like My 2 cents worth, for instance, and creative posts like Life at the Monastery. Chapter 1. Things have since settled into a routine, which I think was inevitable.

      I also think tilly is overly generous with Alex the Serb, who was a complete ass.

        I'm not being particularly generous with Alex the Serb. I just am recognizing and empathizing with the obvious fact that he had post traumatic stress disorder. That is tremendously hard to deal with even under the best of conditions, such as is faced by returning soldiers going to a country with lots of resources and lots of trained therapists. It is far, far worse when you're living in a bombed out country where you're being forced to try to cope while basic survival is an issue.

        That said, sympathy notwithstanding, we did what we clearly had to given the needs of our community.

        About psychoonveld, I don't know what to make of that post. The gap between that isolated post and the sudden opening up on Dec 23 makes me wonder.

        What did ever happen to paco?

        pschoonveld was a real user, and not a part of BlockStackers, so far as I am aware; he answered a question from CmdrTaco on December 2nd, 1999.
        As discussed in more detail at Re: The First Ten Perl Monks, it seems that the mysterious pschoonveld, though not officially employed by BlockStackers, was a PerlMonks "insider", a Hope College buddy of vroom, who hung out on the early PerlMonks web site before it opened to the public on 23 Dec 1999.

        CmdrTaco, another Hope College student and PerlMonks insider, is the famous Rob Malda, co-founder of Slashdot.

Re: The early history of Perlmonks
by Argel (Prior) on Mar 30, 2009 at 23:31 UTC
    Excellent post!! I have to say I am glad you toughed it out!! I wish I had been there closer to the beginning, but it's probably better that I missed the Clique Wars. I thought PerlMonks had been around longer -- I had no idea that I joined roughly 2 years after it had started! I suppose you could say that several of the regulars have changed, but on the other hand several of the current regulars have been in that role for several years. It's hard for me to think of PerlMonks without thinking of e.g. ikegami, BrowserUK, jdporter, tye and all of the others I am missing. And merlyn, chromatic, and Ovid still show up. The community that has built up around Perl really sets it apart, and PerlMonks exemplifies that. Thank you for fostering and supporting such a great community, and thank you for documenting some of the early days!!

    Elda Taluta; Sarks Sark; Ark Arks

Re: The early history of Perlmonks
by webfiend (Vicar) on Mar 31, 2009 at 19:54 UTC

    Thanks so much for sharing this. PM has just been this place I go to for a while, and it didn't really occur to me until reading over your post how much history we've actually got. Also: I think it was a net gain when we lost the cliquishness and got you back.

Re: The early history of Perlmonks
by targetsmart (Curate) on Apr 01, 2009 at 08:07 UTC
    Thanks very much tilly, actually I wanted to put ++ several times for this node, but i was able to do that only once :), Thanks for all who contributed to this great node. It was really interesting to read all the nodes in this thread.

    -- In accordance with the prarabdha of each, the One whose function it is to ordain makes each to act. What will not happen will never happen, whatever effort one may put forth. And what will happen will not fail to happen, however much one may seek to prevent it. This is certain. The part of wisdom therefore is to stay quiet.
Re: The early history of Perlmonks
by softworkz (Monk) on Apr 02, 2009 at 20:27 UTC
    Excellent post tilly! I found this site in the fall of 2000 because I was taking Perl in college. I finally joined after I got my first Perl job. Coolest memory was going to my first Perl conference riding in a shuttle bus and someone said something to some merlyn guy. Then it dawned on me.. hey that's the real merlyn !
Re: The early history of Perlmonks
by staunch (Pilgrim) on Apr 03, 2009 at 02:17 UTC
    Nice post. Kind of shocking that I've been on here for nine years.
    I joined May 9th, 2000. I never posted much under this account (my first one). But I've been on here for nearly a decade and the site still rocks.

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