Does Popularity Matter?

Nexen recently posted a great survey on PHP usage (perhaps they beat NetCraft to the punch this time?). We’ve seen these trends before: PHP is on the steady rise for numbers of installations. Coupled with Apache, it is the most popular web development platform around.

My question is: does that really matter?

By “matter” I mean, “does it affect PHP’s credibility in a positive way?”; and also: “does it prove anything?” My theory is that the vast and overwhelming majority of PHP installations are in shared hosting environments. This does not necessarily prove that PHP has gained the credibility it deserves yet. It may simply indicate that PHP has a low barrier to entry. It may simply mean that because it is easy to install and free, it is installed freely. It may be simply popular because it is popular–and not, as we hope, because it has gained the reputation it is capable of sustaining as “the gold standard for web devlopment”, or even, “an enterprise-class web development platform.” I know the latter is true, since I have been using it that way for years now–but these numbers don’t necessarily tell us PHP has arrived. So, rather than the community resting on its collective laurels for one more year of increased installations, I encourage us all to consider what can be done to promote PHP through education, standards, and best practices to its rightful place as much, much more than simply a popular web development language.