Perl Is Most 'Disliked' Programming Language on Stack Overflow

Putting a new twist on the programming language popularity game, Stack Overflow data scientists decided to explore the opposite, concluding that Perl is the most "disliked" language, followed by Delphi and VBA.

The programming Q&A site used its "Developer Story" feature in its analysis, as coders can indicate with topic tags what tech they want to work with, along with the tech they'd prefer not to work with.

By comparing those "dislike" tags with "like" tags, Stack Overflow gleaned insights into language unpopularity, through some data science analysis.

"As a measure of how polarizing each tag is, we'll look at what fraction of the time it appears in someone's Disliked tags compared to how often it appears in either someone's Liked or Disliked tags," said SO data scientist David Robinson in a blog post today. "Thus, 50 percent would mean a tag was disliked exactly as often as it was liked, while 1 percent means there were 99 people who liked it for each one who disliked it. (We used the empirical Bayes method I describe in this post to estimate these averages, and this method to calculate 95 percent credible intervals)."

When analyzing programming languages-- as opposed to platforms such as Android or libraries such as JQuery -- that analysis resulted in this chart:

Most Disliked Programming Languages
[Click on image for larger view.] Most Disliked Programming Languages (source: Stack Overflow)

"The most disliked languages, by a fairly large margin, are Perl, Delphi, and VBA," Robinson said. "They're followed by PHP, Objective-C, CoffeeScript, and Ruby. On our team we're certainly happy to see that R is the least disliked programming language, relative to the number of people who liked it."

SO also found a correlation between Liked/Disliked tags and the growth of their respective programming languages. Not surprisingly, the fastest-growing languages generally have fewer associated dislike tags, and vice-versa, though Robinson claimed no causal relationship.

When looking beyond just programming languages to include OSes, platforms, libraries and so on, Internet Explorer heads the disliked list, followed by Visual Basic. Microsoft's IE browser was the most disliked technology out of several other company tech offerings that made the list, with "Microsoft" the company even clocking in at No. 6.

Most Disliked Technologies
[Click on image for larger view.] Most Disliked Technologies (source: Stack Overflow)

Another data exploration determined the most uniformly popular technologies, what Robinson described as those that are almost never disliked, where machine learning, Git and Python 3.x headed the list.

Most Disliked Technologies
[Click on image for larger view.] Most Disliked Technologies (source: Stack Overflow)

Yet another investigation grouped these data points together for a fuller picture -- using a technique to construct a technology network to represent an overall software ecosystem -- aided by colored tags and nodes or clusters of tags.

Most Disliked Technologies
[Click on image for larger view.] Most Disliked Technologies (source: Stack Overflow)

Microsoft didn't fare too well here, either. "There are clusters of polarizing tags within the sub-ecosystems for Microsoft (centered around C# and .NET), PHP (along with WordPress and Drupal), and mobile development (particularly Objective-C)," Robinson said. "Within the cluster of operating systems (lower right), we can see that systems such as OSX and especially Windows have their detractors, but tags like Linux, Ubuntu and Unix don't."

Finally, Robinson also explored "rivalries," or those tags liable to be disliked by someone who likes a specific tag. Here, Linux-Windows headed the list, followed by Git-SVN and backend-frontend.

Robinson's extensive post describes the methodology used in the analytics, along with controls and other steps taken to ensure accuracy and credible results.

He emphasized "this is no indictment of the technologies, their quality, or their popularity. It is simply a measurement of what technologies stir up strong negative feelings in at least a subset of developers who feel comfortable sharing this publicly."

This isn't the first tine SO has turned its attention to unpopular languages and technologies, as its huge Developer Survey earlier this year asked tens of thousands of respondents about their "most dreaded" offerings in several categories.

Here's a look at the top three "most dreaded" offerings in all categories:

  • Languages: Visual Basic 6, VBA, CoffeScript.
  • Frameworks, Libraries and Other Technologies: Cordova, Xamarin, Hadoop.
  • Databases: Oracle, SQLite, MySQL.
  • Platforms: SharePoint, Salesforce, WordPress.

Conversely, here are the "most loved" categories:

  • Languages: Rust, Smalltalk, TypeScript.
  • Frameworks, Libraries and Other Technologies: React, Node.js, .NET Core.
  • Databases: Redis, PosgreSQL, MongoDB.
  • Platforms: Linux Desktop, Serverless, Amazon Web Services (AWS).

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.