by  Joshua Turcotte

Ahoy from the engineering staff here at NumbersUSA. We don't often write to you in this format, or at all... huddled away working furiously in our glass-walled cave here in the organization's main office. Still, an untimely mismatch of circumstances, personnel transitions, and technological advancement have created a scenario where our iOS and Google Play applications no longer sync well with content provided by the site. Several have rightly written in to complain, and we hang our heads, deploy some colorful language in agreement, and keep working on the coding that we can.

Overall, NumbersUSA has been a victim of it's own success. In the earliest days, it did not take the most sophisticated of code to make our services available to a mere tens of thousands of users. When I came on board back in 2001, the unique identification number that accompanied the record of my 'action buffet' user account was a mere four digits long. Since then, the number of people who've signed up to send faxes, read blogs, and get our emails has increased roughly 46000 percent. That's a game changing number, to be honest, and does not include our new following on Facebook, either.

As you all may know, Roy's a seasoned writer, and when he writes to you, our citizens so to speak, you make your presence known with a sharp influx of traffic to our site -- often to the most complex part of it, being that pesky Action Board. If our servers could scream, they would... and as colorfully as the engineering staff is want to do. Middle-aged machines are being asked to run like Usain Bolt time and time again, in response to whatever Congress has up their sleeve today. Software Engineering is a discipline, requiring of planning, caution, and exactitude. We rarely have these luxuries, but we make do nevertheless. Invariably, a bug will get through, but what I write about today is more long-term strategy than anything else.

The point is, our site and services are in distinct need of upgrade and we've actually been poking away at it in the background for a while now. There's a lot going on, under the hood, and some of those parts have been replaced with more modern, more flexible, components. Still, we're getting to the point where entire beloved sections of the site will effectively be replaced in their entirety with modern, scalable, fault tolerant versions of themselves. As best we can, the experience you have as a user should be very similar or nearly identical. The look may be polished up a bit, but we will work hard not to induce such a paradigm shift as to render the site unfamiliar to you. The goal is simply to replace the engine, but keep the body, albeit with a fresh paint job.

This juggling act by a small staff on a strict budget required hard choices... sometimes untimely ones. In light of the fact that phones are more powerful than ever, browsers and HTML have come a long way, and the skillsets available in the 'fish bowl' engineering room have changed over the years, we're opting to pre-emptively retire the mobile apps. They would have been naturally obsolete in a matter of another year, anyhow, given that the new site will just work swimmingly on mobile devices as is, but trying to rescue end-of-life applications now would delay us in delivering their replacement. This is mildly embarrassing, but the most strategic choice here is to just offload the burden, apologize a little bit, and press forward on delivering a much better system over the next year or two.

JOSH TURCOTTE is the Director of Technology for NumbersUSA


Updated: Fri, Oct 6th 2017 @ 9:55am EDT

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