Err Engine Down

David Auerbach | Slate | October 8, 2013

What really went wrong with

Of all the terrible websites I’ve seen, ranks somewhere in the middle. It has been difficult if not impossible to sign up, and customer service has been inadequate. But it’s certainly better than the NYC Department of Education site that I attempted to help a friend navigate two years ago, in hopes of her getting paid her actual salary instead of a default salary; the blatantly inept Web code got the best of us. And it’s better than the evanescent Web encyclopedia Cpedia, which rolled out with pages that literally consisted of nonsense (such as “Clickbooth Cuil but not avail due to flooding traffics and making their servers ‘too hot’ to handle”). The problems plaguing aren’t due to a unique coding failure or a unique government failure—plenty of products have had similar early deficits, such as the Electronic Arts server bugs that rendered SimCity unplayable by most for more than a week after it was released this March. So’s failures are not uncommon—they’re just exceptionally high-profile.

The Redditors picking apart the client code have found some genuine issues with it, but’s biggest problems are most likely not in the front-end code of the site’s Web pages, but in the back-end, server-side code that handles—or doesn’t handle—the registration process, which no one can see. Consequently, I would be skeptical of any outside claim to have identified the problem with the site. Bugs rarely manifest in obvious forms, often cascading and metamorphizing into seemingly different issues entirely, and one visible bug usually masks others.