Nick Ang profile picture

Nick Ang

Who's responsibility is it when something breaks?

Who's responsibility is it when something breaks?

Any useful piece of software is bound to have bugs. A corner case wasn’t thought of. Some user has found creative ways to use your tool that you couldn’t have come up with yourself.

Whatever the case, things inevitably break in software.

But who’s fault is it if a user does something with your tool and things turn out to be real bad?

Let’s say you are using a third-party product recommendations widget for your Shopify e-commerce store. You’ve been using it for a couple of months and are happy with it.

Recently, they’d launched a new feature called “Predictive recommendations” or something fancy-sounding like that, which is purportedly able to recommend products based on a visitor’s browser history. You set it up for your shop in hopes of getting some conversions.

A few days later, you noticed something amiss. The product photos shown in the widget are poorly cropped and they have been up on the shop for a good number of days, which means customers saw them.

You undoubtedly are worried about your brand image being tarnished because of how ugly the site had become, and you get angry at the app provider.

Is it the app’s fault, or is it your fault as a user?

I personally think it’s a combination of both. Pinning the blame on either party is unfair.

That said, I’d say the company that made the app should bear a bigger part of the responsibility.

If a new feature is released to your general user base, then it should have been properly tested. Set up an alpha/beta program with a feature-gate mechanism to slowly roll out new features with a small group of users first, then roll it out only after the wheels have been worn in.

But that doesn’t mean the user gets away with no blame. In my opinion, if you choose to start using a feature from the get-go, you have the responsibility of due diligence to ensure things don’t go wrong. It’s as easy as double-checking whether things are looking like they should on your website.

Photo by Ivan Vranić on Unsplash.

Nick Ang profile picture
Senior software engineer, dad, writer-thinker type. Big on learning something everyday and trying to have fun before the lights go out.
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