Has Joel Spolsky Jumped the Shark?

Jeff Atwood questions Joel Spolsky's sanity in his post Has Joel Spolsky Jumped the Shark?

Jeff writes in his comments:

When was the last time you encountered a problem and thought to yourself, "Mmm. What I really need here is MY VERY OWN PROGRAMMING LANGUAGE."

Heh. As a guy who has created his very own programming language, I also can't help but think Joel's decision is somewhat, ummm, odd.

The language I've created is a small domain specific language, designed for a narrow set of tasks and designed to do them well (querying and manipulating data in a document database). That's a good reason to create a DSL, to solve a problem more simply, cleanly and/or flexibly than other solutions.

Joel says:

Wasabi is a private, in-house language written by one of our best developers that is optimized specifically for developing FogBugz.

And so it appears Joel has perhaps made a DSL. A DSL that is optimized for building web based bug tracking software. That of course is an insane reason to build a DSL. A full featured bug tracking systems is far too complex and diverse to be expressed in some simple "bug tracking web app" language. It needs to be developed primarily in a general purpose program language. Maybe 2 or 3 such languages.

So of course Wasabi isn't a DSL, according to Joel it's super-set of VBScript which obviously makes it a general purpose language. A proprietary, VBScript derivative general purpose programming language. And why did they create the new derivative language? To get lambas and closures?

Creating a new general purpose language is a bad idea unless you want to maintain a programming language and keep it current with libraries and interop and whatnots. Doing that takes lots of work, work you wouldn't have to do if you picked a language maintained by someone else. Which is fine if you are in the programming language business, but it seems odd if you are in the web based bug tracking business.

FogCreek has got the best marketing money can't buy and I'm sure they do quite well. The duplicated effort of maintaining another general purpose programming language might be inconsequential given revenue. But all I can say is the Wasabi looks more like a geek status symbol than a sound business or technical decision.

In 2 years from now when Schnurb Resource Interfaces takes off, are they going to get Schnurb libraries and Schnurb toolkits for free? Or are they going to have to write and debug it all themselves? Oops a few years later Schnurb turned out to be fad, and now its Flabin Driven Networking. I hope they didn't spend too much time trying to shoehorn Schnurb technology into their private proprietary language, but too late to care because customers are clamoring for Flabin data interfaces.

The way Joel tries to make it seem like some brilliant technical and business maneuver is tiresome. It was a decision and it had consequences (positive and negative) that they have made work, that's all. Technical decisions like that end up having so little influence over final success (e.g. team quality is 1000% more important), and Joel is a one man marketing machine and he'll probably sell a zillion copies of FogBugz regardless. And when you are making lots of money, every decision starts to seems like brilliance.

Posted September 13, 2006 1:18 AM