“Move fast and break things” – that’s the mandate Facebook works under, but it doesn’t always go as planned. And sometimes it really backfires, like the time when the “legacy contact” testing went south.
- Legacy contact is a feature that allows next-of-kin to take over the account of the deceased
- As many as 429 developers contributing code could be contributing to Facebook’s iOS app
- Facebook engineer Simon Whitaker accidentally marked his own account as deceased
- His wife received a message with Facebook’s condolences
Facebook engineer Simon Whitaker explained how writing the code for the social network comes to life in a recent presentation to an iOS app developer group in the UK in September. He revealed how its iOS app can sometimes have as many as 429 developers contributing code.
Building something that massive in such a rush can sometimes fall apart and the company’s developers even have a term for when that happens. “Clowntown” is a reference to when the situation has got so out of at hand that “the clowns now rule the asylum.”
When he presented his pet project “legacy contact,” Whitaker explained how he managed to take the whole thing a step further and becoming the “Zombie Mayor of Clowntown.” Legacy contact is a feature that allows each user to set a next-of-kin who will take over their profile page in the event of their death.
If the service is activated, Facebook sends their condolences in a message to the legacy contact, while also providing the data necessary for the control of the account. Whitaker explained that he got an intern to rewrite the original version of the legacy contact from scratch, and add more style to the “quick-and-dirty hack.”
And this is when things went south; while Whitaker was setting up a fake account for testing, he accidentally messed up some of his code. Instead of creating a new fake dead person account, he marked his own account as deceased.
While his coworkers had a good laugh and made him Zombie Mayor of Clowntown, his wife didn’t find it as funny. Playing by the rule, the feature sent her a message offering “Facebook’s condolences for the passing of Simon Whitaker.”
Surprisingly, Whitaker’s speech sparked a lot of controversy in the programmer community. A lot of programmers thought that Facebook wasn’t making smart design decisions if they need that many programmers writing that much code – even though the sheer scale the social network has reached might call for it.
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