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R is now important enough to have a paid for PR make-over

July 5th, 2015 8 comments

With the creation of the R consortium R has moved up a rung on the ladder of commercial importance.

R has captured the early adopters and has picked up a fair few of the early majority (I’m following the technology adoption life-cycle model made popular by the book Crossing the Chasm), i.e., it is starting to become mainstream. Being mainstream means that jobsworths are starting to encounter the language in situations of importance to them. How are the jobsworths likely to perceive R? From my own experience I would say it will be perceived as being an academic thing, which in the commercial world is not good, not good at all.

To really become mainstream R needs to shake off its academic image, and as I see it, the R consortium has been set up to make that happen. I imagine it will try to become the go-to point for journalists wanting information or a quote about things-related-to R. Yes, they will hold conferences with grandiose sounding titles and lots of business people will spend surprising amounts of money to attend, but the real purpose is to solidify the image of R as a commercial winner (the purpose of a very high conference fee is to keep the academics out and convince those attending that it must be important because it is so expensive).

This kind of consortium gets set up when some technology having an academic image is used by large companies that need to sell this usage to potential customers (if the technology is only used internally its wider image is unimportant).

Unix used to have an academic image, one of the things that X/Open was set up to ‘solve’. The academic image is now a thing of the past.

For the first half of the 1980s it looked like Pascal would be a mainstream language; a language widely taught in universities and perceived as being academic. Pascal did not get its own consortium and C came along and took its market (I was selling Pascal tools at the time and had lots of conversations with companies who were switching from Pascal to C and essentially put the change down to perception; it did not help that Pascal implementations did their best to hide/ignore the 8086 memory model, something of interest when memory is scarce).

How will we know when R reaches the top rung (if it does)? Well there are two kinds of languages, those that nobody uses and those that everybody complains about.

R will be truly mainstream once people feel socially comfortable complaining about it to any developer they are meeting for the first time.