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Visual Basic: Not as Shiny, Still as Viable

Today I came across the article The Rise and Fall of Visual Basic by Matthew MacDonald on Hacker News.

Today, Visual Basic is in a strange position. It has roughly 0% of the mindshare among professional developers—it doesn’t even chart in professional developer surveys or show up in GitHub repositories. However, it’s still out there in the wild, holding Office macros together, powering old Access databases and ancient ASP web pages, and attracting .NET newcomers. The TIOBE index, which attempts to gauge language popularity by looking at search results, still ranks VB in the top five most talked-about languages.

But it seems that the momentum has shifted for the last time. In 2017, Microsoft announced that it would begin adding new language features to C# that might never appear in Visual Basic. The change doesn’t return VB to ugly duckling status, but it does take away some of its .NET status.

Truthfully, the trend to sideline VB has been there for years. Serious developers know that key parts of .NET are written in C#. They know that C# is the language of choice for presentations, books, courses, and developer workshops. If you want to speak VB, it won’t harm the applications you build, but it might handicap your ability to talk to other developers.


Visual Basic has been threatened before. But this time feels different. It seems like the sun is finally setting on one of the world’s most popular programming languages. Even if it’s true, Visual Basic won’t disappear for decades. Instead, it will become another legacy product, an overlooked tool without a passion or future. Whether we’ve lost something special—or finally put an old dog out of its misery—is for you to decide.

Visual Basic may not be getting much love these days, but its functionality is still there. Mads Torgersen says that the ongoing strategy for VB, as of 2017, is to “do everything necessary to keep it a first class citizen of the .NET ecosystem” by focusing “innovation on the core scenarios and domains where VB is popular.” It is still being actively developed, used, and implemented.

The point is, a language’s popularity should not determine its usefulness. Michael Born said it best in his article Yes, CF is “Unpopular”. No, I don’t care.

Popularity is not the end goal. I’ll say it again: popularity is not the end goal! If your language of choice has a scheduled release every two years and hundreds of thousands of active developers, it won’t matter one bit unless that language is useful. Node.js, as a language, is almost worthless without its immense open-source ecosystem. You won’t find any real-world applications running on Node without the use of dozens or hundreds of npm libraries simply because Node is not useful in and of itself.

That’s not a bad thing! Node is an excellent language to learn, and is very powerful thanks to its immense popularity and large package ecosystem – but just remember that without the ecosystem, Node as a language would be a footnote in the annals of history.

We really need to stop with these asinine sunset articles and gloom-and-doom rants on programming languages. More importantly, we need to stop treating them as fads, religions, or special memberships to the cool kids clubs.



YouTube: Turn Off the Lights, the Party’s Over

Was the YouTube Partner Program a viable way to make a career? When a machine is in the wheelhouse, probably not.

With the latest ad apocalypse (dubbed the “Voxpocalypse“), another large swath of YouTube content creators are finding themselves in the demonetization (and channel purge) list as YouTube cranks up their aggressive crackdown on content not deemed suitable for advertisers. Worse yet for some, the targeted deplatforming campaigns brought on by individuals caught in their crosshairs is a “taking a bull by the horns” approach to ensuring that major content sponsors are pulling out, decreasing their monthly income (we are ignoring whether or not this is warranted because I really don’t feel like going down that rabbit hole).

I’ve been on the Internet since 1996, starting with a 56K baud modem in the absolute remote wilderness of North Carolina and Internet Explorer on Windows 95. Back then, what content (whether it be videos, blog posts, images) people created were typically self-hosted on shared hosting services, such as GeoCities or Angelfire, or, if you were serious about your work, your paid hosting provider with a custom domain name. People made money off advertising networks that displayed banner ads on their sites. In some cases, they could do very well if the traffic was good (this was in the age before ad blockers became a thing); most of the time, webmasters made money by selling merchandise or asking for donations.

The YouTube Partner Program launched in December 2007. Since then, many have tried (and ultimately failed) to make a career out of YouTube. In the article 96.5% of YouTubers Don’t Earn Enough to Cross the Poverty Line, Study Finds by Daniel Sanchez:

[In the year 2017], the team at Information is Beautiful found that content creators only made $1,472 [USD] after 2.2 million video views. This year [2018], The Trichordist noted that the video streaming platform paid a paltry $0.00074 [USD] per stream, a slight uptick from last year’s $0.0006 [USD] rate. With the company’s recent update to its monetization eligibility policy, a new study has found these numbers will only continue to get worse.

It goes without saying that the lion’s share of revenue generated by advertisement revenue goes to the platform itself. Profitability, however, still remains a mystery. From the article Believe It or Not, YouTube May Spend More on Content than Netflix Does by Adam Levy:

If [Evercore ISI investment bank analyst Ken Sena’s] estimates are accurate, YouTube will account for approximately 5% of Alphabet’s total revenue in 2015. That percentage is expected to rise as YouTube grows faster than the more mature Google business. But compared to Google’s high-margin search engine and display advertising revenue, YouTube isn’t very profitable. The business has yet to generate bottom-line earnings, and it’s not clear that 2015 will be any different.

YouTube continues to invest in infrastructure, employees, and new products. Most recently, YouTube rolled out YouTube Red, which combines a full-fledged music streaming service with ad-free YouTube videos as well as original productions for $9.99 per month — the same price as Netflix and other music streaming services.

Eventually, YouTube will ease off the gas pedal and start turning a profit for Alphabet investors, just as Netflix will do for its investors. At that point, we might expect profit margins to climb to levels more in line with Google’s other major revenue sources. Last quarter, Alphabet reported an operating profit margin of 33%. At that rate, YouTube could add about $3 billion of operating profit to Alphabet in 2020. That’s about 20% of the company’s 2014 operating income.

That said, YouTube is going to put their own preservation interests first and foremost. What’s even more problematic for content creators is that YouTube’s biggest competitors–the traditional media–are keenly aware of the delicate relationship that YouTube has with its advertisers. Thus, when a hit piece comes out that could potentially paint the companies in a bad light, the algorithm is changed, videos and channels are tossed, behaviors are modified through demonetization, and YouTube tries to make nice with the old hat media by placing them front and center. Then you have people with an agenda who make waves, triggering another wave of demonitizations and channel/video removals. Then there are disputes between online personalities and journalists. Soon it will come to a point where so much as passing gas accidentally on camera will erupt in a mass exodus of advertisers.

To me, this just screams that people need to go back to what we started with: self-hosting, self-maintaining, and self-reliance. With the advent of cloud computing and scalability, it’s (theoretically) easier now to establish your own corner on the ‘net without the need to rely on a platform.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that large providers–Microsoft, Google, Amazon–aren’t immune to social pressure. But in this case, the content producer is also a paying customer, not a means to an end to generate advertising revenue.