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In recent years it seems that functional programming languages have had a real popularity increase. Languages like Erlang, Haskell, Scala, F# and Clojure seem to be pretty well known and many popular programming sites (such as Stack Overflow) seem to be full of questions and discussions on them.

The question is how would you go about researching the growth of these languages in real terms. Of course I know about the TIOBE index but is that really the best source to measure the popularity of a given programming language?

Hopefully this question will be allowed since it is something that many programmers look towards to decide whether a given technology is likely to last for a long time or not (although this is not my personal goal).

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You get what you measure. As you can see on the website, TOIBE measures how many hits "<language> programming" has on various search engines. Whether that is a decent metric for your notion of popularity is a different (and very hard) question. –  delnan May 18 '13 at 11:28
For some things (not just functional programming) there are "waves of optimism". Some group decides it's a good idea and convinces others, they try it and find out it's not as good as they hoped, and then the optimism dies; then (later) everyone has forgotten and the cycle repeats. The latest wave was mostly started by the hype surrounding Haskell (released a few years ago), even though Haskell itself started in the previous "wave of optimism" in the late 1980s. By determining where we are in the current wave you could estimate time until the wave collapses (my guess, 3 more years). :-) –  Brendan May 18 '13 at 16:11
@Brendan: Maybe Haskell will never become mainstream because the average programmer does not feel comfortable with recursion, immutability, monads. The industry normally targets the average programmers and tends to ignore niche technologies like Haskell. Not being mainstream does not mean that Haskell is a bad language or that it will disappear (I think the Haskell community is quite solid), it only means that the average developer does not have the opportunity or the skills required to become proficient in Haskell. –  Giorgio May 18 '13 at 19:20
@Giorgio: Some people are more likely to switch to something different. These are the people that switched to Haskell and are currently switching from Haskell to other functional languages (e.g. Scala). Soon they will be the people switching away from functional programming when the next "new" thing is resuscitated. Functional programming won't die (people have been using it since the 1950's/Lisp); but the current wave of optimism will, leaving a (mostly negligible) number of true fans. –  Brendan May 18 '13 at 23:29
@Giorgio: In the same way, Haskell won't die either. It'll just fall further down on the "trendy hipster scale". Then (in another 25 years) it'll probably be reborn and the 3 people that actually persevered will jump up and say "I was using it before it was cool!", and all the real programmers (the ones that care about "average" programmers being able to maintain code in the long term) will laugh at them and continue using the same imperative languages that everyone's always used to get real work done. :-) –  Brendan May 18 '13 at 23:36

2 Answers 2

You can do your own TIOBE style research quite easily with Google trends.

Here's a plot of search frequency for "haskell programming", "scala programming" and "F# programming":

enter image description here

Hardly a picture of explosive growth (although maybe Scala is managing to struggle upwards).

Just to put that in context, here's with "java programming" added, dwarfing the others.

enter image description here

(Substituting "programming" with "language" yields much the same picture).

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I couldn't find a link but I once saw a site that cross-referenced github's rankings with TIOBE's. I doubt the pitfalls of each metric are sufficiently different to make the composite more accurate, but it was interesting comparing the two. (TIOBE's generally appears more conservative / enterprise-oriented.)

Well the analysis of open source projects is straight-forward enough, I am yet unconvinced there are very many decent wise to measure closed-source language usage.

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Maybe you're thinking of this analysis based on StackOverflow and github rankings? e.g redmonk.com/sogrady/2013/02/28/language-rankings-1-13 (there are some similar previous posts in their "Programming Languages" topic, but its not been running for long). –  timday May 18 '13 at 17:02
Yup that's it. Yeah, throwing time in as a 3rd dimension would make it better, and more relevant to your question. –  Sonarpulse May 18 '13 at 19:38

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