Many years ago, early on in my career, I was responsible for the Local Area Network of a small office with about 15 members of staff. As I had no formal background in network admin, I bought a book on network troubleshooting, and there was one chapter that really stuck with me. It was entitled The Sesame Street Method, and it outlined a fundamental concept to use when you’re trying to track down a problem: compare the thing that’s broken with a bunch of the same things that aren’t broken, and see what’s different. There’s a good chance that the difference will also be what’s causing the issue, whether it’s a software setting or a hardware variation.

The chapter took its name from the famous Sesame Street segment ‘One of these things is not like the others’, as illustrated by this clip:

Many years later, I always encourage my clients to adopt a similar approach to noticing an issue with a website. The first question to ask is: are all the things broken? For example, a book page is missing its Waterstones buy link. Are all book pages missing their Waterstones buy link, or just one? If they’re all missing, it could well be a bug that needs to be addressed. But if they’re mostly fine, and the problem is confined to selected books, then the chances are that it can be explained by a difference between the working things and the non-working things. So it’s then time to play a game of ‘One of these things is not like the others’!

This concept can also be applied to the bibliographic data that feeds many of the publisher websites we build. If a problem is general, then it may well be a bug with a template or plugin; but if it’s restricted to specific examples, the first thing to check is whether there’s a difference in the data in the title management system.

So rememember, if you notice a problem, make like Oscar the Grouch, and ask yourself… which one of these things is not like the others!