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10 hard truths developers must learn to accept

Peter Wayner | April 3, 2012
On most days, programming is a rewarding experience, with no problem too challenging to solve. Perseverance, intuition, the right tool -- they all come together seamlessly to produce elegant, beautiful code.

Developer hard truth No. 7: Privacy is a pain

We want our services to protect our users and their information. But we also want the sites to be simple to operate and responsive. The click depth -- the number of clicks it takes to get to our destination -- should be as shallow as possible.

The problem is that privacy means asking a few questions before letting someone dig deeper. Giving people control over the proliferation of information means adding more buttons to define what happens.

Privacy also means responsibility. If the user doesn't want the server to know what's going on, the user better take responsibility because the server is going to have trouble reading the user's mind. Responsibility is a hassle and that means that privacy is a hassle.

Privacy can drive us into impossible logical binds. There are two competing desires: One is to be left alone, and the other is to be sent a marvelous message. One desire offers the blissful peace with no interruptions, and the other can bring an invitation or a love letter, a job offer, a dinner party, or just a free offer from your favorite store.

Alas, you can't have one without the other. Fighting distractions will also drive off the party invitations. Hiding your email address means that the one person who wants to find you will be pulling out their hair looking for a way to contact you. In most cases, they'll simply move on.

Developer hard truth No. 8: Trust isn't cheap

The promise of Web 2.0 sounded wonderful. Just link your code to someone else's and magic happens. Your code calls theirs, theirs calls yours, and the instructions dance together like Fred and Ginger.

If only it were that easy. First, you have to fill out all these forms before they let you use their code. In most cases, your lawyers will have a fit because the forms require you to sign away everything. What do you get in return? Hand-waving about how your code will maybe get a response from their code some of the time. Just trust us.

Who could blame them, really? You could be a spammer, a weirdo, or a thief who wants to leverage Web 2.0 power to work a scam. They have to trust you, too.

And the user gets to trust both of you. Privacy? Sure. Everyone promises to use the best practices and the highest-powered encryption software while sharing your information with everyone under the sun. Don't worry.

The end result is often more work than you want to invest in a promise that kinda, sorta delivers.

Developer hard truth No. 9: Bitrot happens


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