Paul Graham

Paul Graham

Infobox person
name=Paul Graham

birth_place=Weymouth, England []
occupation= programmer, venture capitalist, author

Paul Graham (born 1964) is a programmer, venture capitalist, and essayist, known for his work on Lisp. He is the author of "On Lisp" (1993), "ANSI Common Lisp" (1995), and "Hackers & Painters" (2004).


In 1995, Graham and Robert Morris founded Viaweb, the first application service provider (ASP). Viaweb's software, originally written mostly in Common Lisp, allowed users to make their own Internet stores. In the summer of 1998 Viaweb was sold to Yahoo! for 455,000 shares of Yahoo! stock, valued at $49.6 million. [cite web |url= |title=Yahoo! to Acquire Viaweb |accessdate=2008-04-14 |date=1998-06-08 |publisher=Yahoo! Inc] At Yahoo! the product became Yahoo! Store.

He has since begun writing essays for his popular website They range from " [ Beating the Averages] ", which compares Lisp to other programming languages and introduced the word Blub, to " [ Why Nerds are Unpopular] ", a discussion of nerd life in high school. A collection of his essays has been published as "Hackers and Painters" (ISBN 0-596-00662-4) by O'Reilly.

In 2005, after giving a talk at the Harvard Computer Society later published as [ How to Start a Startup] , Graham along with Trevor Blackwell, Jessica Livingston and Robert Morris started Y Combinator to provide seed funding to startups, particularly those started by younger, more technically-oriented founders. Y Combinator has now invested in 80 startups, including reddit,, loopt and Xobni.

BusinessWeek included Paul Graham in 2008 edition of its annual feature, "The 25 Most Influential People on the Web" [cite web |url= |title= The Papa Bear: Paul Graham |accessdate=2008-09-29 |work= |publisher= BusinessWeek|date= ] .

Graham has a B.A. ["I might not be the best source of advice, because I was a philosophy major in college. " [] ] from Cornell. He earned an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Applied Sciences (specializing in computer science) from Harvard in 1988 and 1990 respectively [] , and studied painting at Rhode Island School of Design and the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence.

Arc programming language

In 2001, Paul Graham [ announced] that he was working on a new dialect of Lisp named "Arc." Over the years since, he has written several essays describing features or goals of the language, and some internal projects at Y Combinator have been written in Arc, most notably the [ Hacker News] web forum and news aggregator program.

In the essay [ Being Popular] Graham describes a few of his goals for the language. While many of the goals are very general ("Arc should be hackable," "there should be good libraries"), he did give some specifics. For instance, he believes that it is important for a language to be terse:

It would not be far from the truth to say that a hacker about to write a program decides what language to use, at least subconsciously, based on the total number of characters he'll have to type. If this isn't precisely how hackers think, a language designer would do well to act as if it were.

He also stated that it is better for a language to only implement a small number of "axioms," even when that means the language may not have features that large organizations want, such as object-orientation. In fact, Graham feels that object-orientation is not useful as OO methods and patterns are just "good design," and he sees the language features used to implement OO as partially mistaken. [ [ Why Arc Isn't Especially Object-Oriented] ] [ [ Arc FAQ] ]

A controversy among Lisp programmers is whether, and how much, the S-expressions of the language should be complemented by other forms of syntax. Graham feels that additional syntax should be used in situations where pure S-expressions would be overly verbose, saying, "I don't think we should be religiously opposed to introducing syntax into Lisp." Graham also feels that efficiency problems should be solved by giving the programmer a good profiler.

The first publicly released version of Arc was made available on Tuesday, 29 January 2008 [ [ Arc's Out ] ] . The release comes in the form of a .tar archive, containing the mzscheme source code for Arc. A [ tutorial] and a [ discussion forum] are also available. The forum is copied from and is written itself in Arc.

The initial version has caused some controversy, notably by not supporting any other character set than ASCII, and shipping with a built-in web application library that bases its layout on HTML tables. This, combined with the hype surrounding Arc and its generally slow development pace, has gathered some unfavorable comments. [ [ Reddit: Arc's Out] ]


Blub is a hypothetical programming language intended to represent an average programming language " [r] ight in the middle of the abstractness continuum. It is not the most powerful language, but it is more powerful than Cobol or machine language." [cite web
author = Paul Graham
year = 2001
url =
title = "Beating the Averages"
format = HTML
accessdate = 2007-04-28
] . It was first used by Graham to illustrate a comparison of power between programming languages that goes beyond Turing completeness.

Bayesian filtering

In 2002, Graham published an essay entitled " [ A Plan for Spam] ," in which he advocated using a Naive Bayes classifier to identify spam. While Graham did not discover Bayesian spam filtering, [cite web|url=| paper|author=Jason Rennie|title=ifile|date=1996] the simple but effective variant he described in his paper directly led to the creation of the popular bogofilter software, which uses the method, and to including Bayesian Filtering in other existing products such as SpamAssassin.

In the years since he published the article, Bayesian filtering has come to be regarded as the best method for filtering spam in situations where the filter can be trained, beating older heuristic approaches both in the simplicity of the process and in the quality of spam classification. [cite web |url= |title=Why Bayesian filtering is the most effective anti-spam technology |accessdate=2007-11-09 |author= |date= |work= |publisher=GFI]


External links

* [ Paul Graham's website]
* [ Audio: Great Hackers]
* [ Audio: What Business Can Learn From Open Source]
* [ Video: Power of the Marginal: RailsConf 2006 Keynote Address]
* [ Video: “Be Good”: Paul Graham at Startup School 08]
* [ "Paul Graham Nails It"]
* [ Paul Graham provides stunning answer to spam e-mails]
* [ Techcrunch interview]
* [ Paul Graham on YCombinator] video
* [ Comments on Digital natives] video

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