Bugs, Glitches and the Future of Software

July 09, 2015

Yesterday was a bad day for software. United Airlines flights were grounded due to a technical “glitch.” The Wall Street Journal website was down with a 504 error. The New York Stock Exchange closed for hours due to an “internal technical issue.” And, strangest of all, I put through a small order on Supply Clinic and was quoted a shipping price that was a few cents higher than the price I actually paid.

The Supply Clinic bug was a strange one. We were over-quoting the shipping price prior to purchase and charging less. After some sleuthing, our development team found the issue- we use UPS’s shipping calculator to estimate prices, and sent slightly different location information to their code at different times.  

It was, all in all, a non-issue, but highlighted our dependence on UPS for calculating shipping costs. They are, after all, usually the one actually shipping the product. We’re also dependent on Stripe for payment processing. Certainly it’s some comfort to know that if Stripe faces issues, so do thousands of other companies, including some as large as Sony. Then again, that’s not very much comfort.

We at Supply Clinic have built out much of our codebase ourselves. We don’t use Magento or Wix for our site at all, for instance. But even we have partners (Stripe and UPS), and are dependent on their codebase as well as ours, at least for specific features.

It’s a reminder, particularly in light of yesterday’s more impactful glitches, that so much in our digital age is interconnected. Every link to the Wall Street Journal’s broken page, every individual trying to fly on United, every NYSE trader, and everyone dependent on them was impacted yesterday. In terms of software especially, integrations are ever more common.

We’re barreling toward a world governed by the “Internet of Things,” where every device, from your home’s thermostat to your television, is connected to the internet. That sounds fantastic from a user experience perspective, and has raised plenty of concern regarding security and the ability to use one portal to infiltrate another.

A bigger worry that I have as a consumer, though, is that integration is hard, and most software sucks. When I connect everything to my laptop, and my browser has a security hole, I’m in pretty deep trouble. Of course, that could never happen, except that it happened last year. So when every piece of software depends on every other piece of software, we’re all vulnerable when someone else simply patches their code instead of addressing root issues.

And it’s frustrating as a consumer, because I don’t want my air conditioning to malfunction just because one of my phone’s apps decided it didn’t like my new email program.

But hey, at least I spent a few cents less on floss. 



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