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“A Conspiracy of Silence” | Nature

Sign up to take part. A Nature Research Journal. I have already explained in your columns the sense in which I spoke, and, subject to that explanation, I have nothing to retract.

I observe in Prof. Tait's notice of Dr. Huxley, positively blasphemes against no less a distinguished body of scientific men than the French Institute for their conduct towards evolutionism. Reprints and Permissions. Nature 37, doi Download citation. By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Advanced search. Skip to main content. Subscribe Search My Account Login. No need for exhaustive tests. No need for maintaining code coverage. If you broke the site by improperly wielding OldTuber status, it was on your head and you would lose the privilege immediately, if not your job. So you just had to be a good citizen and never break the site. Our boss, an early YouTube engineer himself, had gone out of his way to ingratiate the web development team with the rest of the early YouTube engineers. Through his efforts, a couple of us eventually found ourselves in possession of OldTuber status, despite never having been a part of the original team.

It was like we were just walking down the street when someone mistook us for valets and handed us the keys to their Ferrari. For better or for worse, we were not exactly the types to just hand the keys back and walk away. We saw an opportunity in front of us to permanently cripple IE6 that we might never get again.

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If this went at all wrong, a number of us would surely be fired. Our most renegade web developer, an otherwise soft-spoken Croatian guy, insisted on checking in the code under his name, as a badge of personal honor, and the rest of us leveraged our OldTuber status to approve the code review. The code merged into production and our banner went live a few days later. The first person to come by our desks was the PR team lead. He was a smart, dapper man who was always bubbling with energy and enthusiasm.

Except this time.

Conspiracy Theories and the Problem of Disappearing Knowledge - Quassim Cassam - TEDxWarwick

This time he was uncharacteristically prickly. He had come in on an otherwise normal day to find email from every major tech news publication asking why the second largest website on the planet was threatening to cut off access to nearly a fifth of its user base.

Fortunately for us, the publications had already settled on a narrative that this was a major benefit to the Internet. By their call, YouTube was leading the charge towards making the web a faster, safer experience for all of its users. The entire PR team had Macs running Chrome and could not even see what we had done, let alone issue comments to the press on any of it.

They were caught completely unaware. We eagerly told them everything about what we had launched and helped them craft the necessary talking points to expand on the narrative already established by the media. Satisfied that he could get back in front of the story, the PR team lead turned and warned us to never do anything like this without telling him first. He did not want to let great public relations opportunities like this slip by ever again. Next came the lawyers. Two senior lawyers sprinted over to our desks in a state of buttoned-down panic. They immediately demanded that we remove the banner.

We explained how we would need the SREs to do an emergency push and that it would take at least a few hours to do. Our boss, in on the conspiracy with us, had thoughtfully recommended that we randomize the order of the browsers listed and then cookie the random seed for each visitor so that the UI would not jump around between pages, which we had done.


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As luck would have it, these two lawyers still used IE6 to access certain legacy systems and had both ended up with random seeds that placed Chrome in the first position. Their fear was that by showing preferential treatment to Chrome, we might prick the ears of European regulators already on the lookout for any anti-competitive behavior.


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  7. While the lawyers conceded that nothing we had done would have likely risen to that level of offense, it had happened on their watch and they did not appreciate that. I repeatedly cleared the cookies in my copy of IE6 and showed the browsers reshuffling with each refresh. Content with the demonstration, the lawyers quickly retreated back to their desks without any further concerns.

    I expected the next people to be the engineering managers and that they would be the angriest given how clearly we had abused our OldTuber status.

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    Suspiciously, nobody came by that day. The next day, a handful of engineers stopped by to congratulate us on the launch of the banner after reading articles around the Internet, but that was it. I asked my boss if he was getting any blowback and he shrugged, indicating that nobody had pulled him aside yet. It seemed that for the moment we were in the clear.

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    Surprised and unable to make sense of this, I probed one of the managers about what he thought about the banner launching. How could Google Docs have beaten us to the punch on this? I opened up Google Docs in IE6 and sure enough, a banner very much like ours was showing at the top.

    It implored their users to upgrade to avoid breaking features in terms similarly vague to ours. I had met a few engineers on the Google Docs team while working on some shared Javascript libraries. I reached out to one and asked how they had arrived at the decision to launch their own banner.

    He explained to me that they had been wanting to deprecate IE6 support for a long time but their managers would not let them for the same reasons we had always heard. One of their engineers testing in IE6 had noticed the YouTube banner pretty shortly after it went live and immediately took it to their manager as evidence as to why they should do the same.

    Shortly thereafter, the Google Docs engineers whipped up their own IE6 banner and pushed it into production, presumably under the mistaken assumption that we had done our diligence and had received all of the necessary approvals.