The Art of the Nothingburger

I have been very busy with my other main interest, my attempt to resuscitate the venerable JavaCC project, so progress on resuscitating FreeMarker is rather stalled right now. A while back, I wrote a history of the JavaCC project, and in so doing, I realized that there was a concept that I certainly understood (by now, I do anyway) but did not have a word for it! The word I finally chose was nothingburger. I use the term nothingburger project to refer to a certain kind of open source project. Such a project is basically dead from the point of view of ongoing development. However, it is not the same as abandonware because a project simply being abandoned, you know, like any orphan project sitting on Sourceforge, no attempt is being made to deceive anybody that the project is active when it is not.

Of course, the nothingburger topic is not specific to FreeMarker and I shall admit openly that I am posting this note here because this website has been so inactive and it should have some new content. That said, when I finally get round to writing a history of the FreeMarker project (similar to the one I wrote for JavaCC) it will be a key concept that I will allude to. 

Actually, my essay on nothingburger-ism unfinished, still a work in progress. When I first started writing it, I thought it would not be very long, but then I realized that it was a much bigger topic than I first thought. So I have written three installments so far and I realize there will likely be the need for at least a couple more.

The first two installments that are already written can be found here and here. Feel free to provide any feedback on the Discourse forum. There is some weird issue where, on an initial visit to the Discourse forum, you see a blank page and finally it works after you hit reload one or more times. This is only on a first visit because after that, your browser seems to have the necessary stuff cached, and then the page is actually quite responsive.)

Notable Replies

  1. Nothingburger Status Confirmed for JavaCC
    I was reading “Instantiating JavaCC Tokenizers/Parsers to Read from Unicode Source Files” by Kenneth R. Beesley (Feb 2005) and noticed how many times he complained about the “lamentable” state of JavaCC’s documentation. He goes on to state, “I have urged that this file be removed from the distribution, but without success.” And later says, “The out-of-date documentation files…refer to the four stream classes … which have also been obsolete since JavaCC 2.1.”
    I am impressed Almost two decades of Nothingburger status!
    Thanks for all your hard work on JavaCC21!

  2. Hi, thanks for the comment!

    I think the most extreme manifestation of their nothingburgerism is here:

    I think that’s quite entertaining, albeit in a rather cruel, cynical way maybe. Laughter in the dark kinda… I suppose some people react negatively to me writing a blog post like that. After all, there is the old homily about: “If you have nothing good to say…”

    But finally, I think these things just have to be said. This is actually a kind of plague out there, these people who sit on well known open source projects and act as gatekeepers, never letting anybody competent come in and do anything. I don’t know why these people do that really. I guess the project “maintainers” believe there is some sort of “prestige” in that role and that it is some sort of viable self-promotion platform for them. Maybe it is. I don’t know.

    But the other thing is that, for some reason, people won’t call these things out. On the one hand, I see no reason to even try to conceal the extent to which I despise those people. On the other hand, I also feel pity for them. Being a nothingburger artist is such a pathetic, wretched thing.

    It’s more understandable in a corporate or bureaucratic context – that there are these incompetent people who have to go through the motions and pretend that they are doing some meaningful work. That’s understandable because it’s a paid job and so on. But it’s such a depressing, wretched sort of way to make a living surely… but okay, one can understand it.

    But then why people would enter an all-volunteer project that is unpaid to behave like this… that is really very hard for me to understand. Granted, if they aren’t going to ever really do anything meaningful, it is not such a huge time commitment, but they still spend some time on this.

    But that legacy JavaCC project is really a kind of uber-nothingburger. It was open-sourced by Sun back in 2003. And it was a nothingburger project from day one. One can see that in the commit log. So, in 17 years (!) they went through 4 or 5 whole point release cycles, from 3.x to 7.x and none of that “activity” introduces a single new feature! None of it embodies a single new idea! And there are longstanding bugs, like the one in “A Bug’s Life” that must have been in the code for over 2 decades and the fix is a single character!

    Frankly, I think it’s hard to characterize the whole thing as anything other than a fraud. That said, I have the sense that, in their own minds, they are not perpetrating a fraud. This relates to the human mind’s capacity for self-delusion. Also, I have to guess that they think that being associated with such a “project” enhances their professional reputations. Maybe it does even, but in a sane world, it wouldn’t!

    Well, anyway, that’s just me ranting. It’s hard to resist the temptation sometimes! I’ll answer your other question about ATTEMPT/RECOVER now…

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