Our interaction with complex computing machines is mediated by programming languages (PLs), which constitute one of the major innovations in the evolution of technology. PLs allow flexible, scalable, and fast use of hardware and are largely responsible for shaping the history of information technology since the rise of computers in the 1950s. The rapid growth and impact of computers were followed closely by the development of PLs. As occurs with natural, human languages, PLs have emerged and gone extinct. There has been always a diversity of coexisting PLs that compete somewhat while occupying special niches. Here we show that the statistical patterns of language adoption, rise, and fall can be accounted for by a simple model in which a set of programmers can use several PLs, decide to use existing PLs used by other programmers, or decide not to use them. Our results highlight the influence of strong communities of practice in the diffusion of PL innovations.
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Vol. 87 • No. 3