This is the idea of Rolling Jubilee: Raise funds online; buy up consumer debt for pennies on the dollar; cancel it; set those in bondage free. So far the Occupy Wall Street offshoot has raised $200,000 to forgive $4 million. Strangers giving money to strangers to help other strangers: an inversion of the financial order, a genuine kindness, a great prank, and not incidentally a way to highlight how simultaneously abstracted and connected the world has become.
I know a guy named Dan Phiffer, who is helping the Rolling Jubilee people with their web server. When we talked Monday night, he was worried that as the news got out, the site would crash. He and I ran down the technologies in use. There were weaknesses and vulnerabilities, precarious linkages to outside services. If a throng arrived, RollingJubilee.org might get swamped under the load. Then money couldn't come in (bad) and the message wouldn't go out (worse).
Scaling is everything. A site that works perfectly for a hundred people fails catastrophically with a hundred thousand. If you expect traffic you can’t just hope for the best. There are dials to turn, files to configure, variables to tweak. For big companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, a huge portion of their annual effort is in scaling—ferreting out weak links and choke points and replacing them with finely tuned code on finely tuned hardware. Scaling matters in other realms too. The Obama campaign’s engineers built a get out the vote apparatus that got smarter as it consumed ever more data; Romney’s project ORCA suffered an epic system failure at the worst possible moment, and its candidate went down with it.
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