The rumours of Ruby’s death are greatly exaggerated…

Sheesh… it seems like every man and his dog is jumping on the latestTIOBE index figures showing a very> small dip in the popularity of Ruby. Talk about lies, damned lies, and statistics…


Firstly, let me point out the obvious – it’s a bloody small dip. Yes, Ruby has plateaued over the last few months. But so did every language – well, except for the ones that dropped. It’s got comparable mindshare to Python, JavaScript and C#, and nobody is saying that they’re vanishing.

Secondly, let’s talk about what the TIOBE index actually is It’s a measure of how many hits you get back from a search engine when you enter in “<language> programming”. That’s it. In my highly unscientific search on google just then, I found that java programming got back about 176,000,000 hits, while ruby programming got 55,000,000 hits. Yahoo got 48,500,000 and 16,800,000, while MSN got 18,507,589 and 1,634,857. So Google and Yahoo think that Java’s about 3 times more popular than Ruby, while TIOBE and MSN think it’s about 8ish.

(Curiously, all of the search engines said Ruby was more popular than C# – 35,000,000, 15,200,000 and a mere 354,986 hits on the respective search engines. But C# has a higer TIOBE rating than Ruby – 3.656% vs 2.632% for Ruby)

Furthermore, this doesn’t even look at the popularity of certain related keywords. For example, on Google, j2ee programming gets 17,300,000 hits while rails programming gets 24,200,00 hits. So Rails programming is almost 50% more popular than J2EE programming!

Internet search hits aren’t the only measure, anyway. What about book sales for example, where Ruby enjoyed a 68% growth in sales in Q1 ’07 (compared with Q1 ’06) in a shrinking market? Personally, I’d pay more attention to interest expressed in dollars spent than I would to internet hits.

For the record, I’m not a Ruby developer – I’m a J2EE specialist with about 8 years of solid Java experience (plus a few years of other stuff) behind me. Ruby looks nice, but I’ve never taken enough time to play with it, let alone seriously work with it. But people who push news like this out of context and celebrate the “death” of a programming language (especially prematurely!) disgust me. Get a life, guys, and learn how to read the stats, not read your own opinion into them.

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Author: Robert Watkins

My name is Robert Watkins. I am a software developer and have been for over 18 years now. I currently work for people, but my opinions here are in no way endorsed by them (which is cool; their opinions aren’t endorsed by me either). My main professional interests are in Java development, using Agile methods, with a historical focus on building web based applications. I’m also a Mac-fan and love my iPhone, which I’m currently learning how to code for. I live and work in Brisbane, Australia, but I grew up in the Northern Territory, and still find Brisbane too cold (after 16 years here). I’m married, with two children and one cat. My politics are socialist in tendency, my religious affiliation is atheist (aka “none of the above”), my attitude is condescending and my moral standing is lying down.

4 thoughts on “The rumours of Ruby’s death are greatly exaggerated…”

  1. Nobody said anything about Ruby’s death, they’re just talking about Ruby hitting the top of its popularity. Since the TIOBE results are confirmed by search jobs, I think these figures are really telling us something.

    Also, a language that is — according to its advocates — taking the world by storm would never hit such a plateau so early. Java never did, nor did C++.

    Finally, the Ruby advocates were the first ones to point to TIOBE numbers when these were going up to show how popular their language is, so it’s ironic that they no longer like that index when it’s not supporting their story…

    Anyway, I love Ruby and Ruby on Rails, but it’s pretty clear to me that it’s not going to take over anything.

  2. So, based on TIOBE index I can say that Python is died in 2004 and PHP’s popularity falls every two months… but they are still growing. Maybe someone that tried Ruby in the last months has found it not matching their needs, but I think that it’s natural to have some fluctuations in case of great expansion of a popularity of a programming language.
    Sorry for my English.

  3. Michele – Exactly. “Stagnation” is an odd term for a language that jumped up so massively in the last 12 months. Furthermore, the TIOBE index is used to _very_ large fluctuations – see the hit to Java that occurred in 2004, simply because Google changed their search methodology. The month-to-month fluctuations are also high. That’s why the TIOBE index can not be taken seriously on a month-to-month basis. It’s good for trend analysis, and the trend shows that Ruby was the ONLY language to get an absolute boost of over 2% in its market share in the last twelve months; all of the top guns dropped massively.

    Like I said, people need to learn to read the stats, not read into the stats.

  4. So the number of instances of the word “Ruby” in a programming context have gone down. So people are saying “Rails” instead of “Ruby on Rails”. Big deal.

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