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Friday, October 5, 2018

Disappearing videos and disappointed grandmothers

I've been doing some traveling lately, and have been hearing interesting stories from people I don't normally get a chance to talk to. Some of them are from other parts of the country or the world, and are from companies I've never heard of.

Here's another story about broken things with some of the details changed just a little. If it sounds familiar, it's probably because your company also did it at some point.

As the story goes, there's this web outfit which was designed around posting stories and videos about cooking stuff. People would get on there and would do all kinds of things to share with their families and friends. Grandmothers would capture their recipes for the kids to have. Kids would capture them trying the recipes. Grandmothers would come back and watch the kids again and again.

They had a vibrant community. Lots of people would post lots of things to it. This thing had been going on for a while.

As the company grew, someone decided it would be a "great idea" if they copied Snapchat, Instagram, and everyone else and added "moments" to their app. (This was a couple of years ago, back when it seemed like damn near everyone was putting those ridiculous circle-with-a-profile-pic-in-it "moment" things on their apps.)

They figured they needed to "seed" this new system of theirs somehow, since after all, not all of their users are 14 and therefore aren't necessarily going to want to use it. They'll have to force their hand somehow. But how?

Their "brilliant idea" was to make it so that every post would also create a "shadow moment". That is, while the moments thing still hadn't launched yet, they'd have stuff feeding into it to get it all figured out. Then, when it launched, they'd just start displaying them to people, and they'd capture all of the audience... right?

So it launched. It hung around for a bit, and, eh, it didn't do too well. It turns out that just copying the behaviors of 14 year olds won't make you popular with actual 14 year olds.

Obviously they tried and tried to make it work, but it didn't work. There aren't enough nails in the world to keep this jello on the wall, so they finally decided to shut it down, and deleted all of the moments in the database. They wanted it gone like a bad memory.

That's when things got interesting, but nobody realized why.

Meanwhile, back on the main site, people's cooking videos have been disappearing. One here, one there, then a bunch here, and a bunch more over there.

Tons of people are complaining. Nobody is taking them seriously.

Even inside the company, the internal tech support is essentially gaslighting the employees who report this problem, by saying things like "it never existed", even when the employee swears up and down that the post DID exist and that grandma used to watch it every single week. Their whole family had seen it and now it's gone, and they're being told it never existed?

Finally, someone who really gave a damn got their hands dirty and dug in and started unraveling what had happened, and that's when they found their smoking gun.

It turned out that back when the "moments" people had set up their "fork" of the data, they didn't want to pay for storing all of those recipe and cooking videos twice. Why? Well, because "videos are big and space is expensive and we are cheap". Something like that.

So, instead of actually holding onto the video again, they just added a pointer to the same video content that the posts were using. Easy, right?

Trouble is, when the product bombed, they just deleted all of these "moments", and that cleared out all of the associated media... including the videos which were rightfully part of the actual posts. Yep. That happened.

Amazingly, nobody figured this out for months, or long after any chance of recovering the original data had passed. All of that stuff is gone forever and it's never coming back.

Somehow, nobody's heard about this, and life goes on.

Absolutely amazing.