We all get that temptation to go to McDonald’s when we crave a McFlurry or a milkshake from time to time. We are full of excitement to drive to the nearest McDonald’s to satisfy our sweet tooth, however, when we get there, we hear that poor and dreaded excuse, “the ice cream machine is broken.”
A 24-year-old software engineer, Rashiq Zahid, has recently launched a new website that tracks every McDonald’s ice cream machine’s operation status in the United States. This website, comically called McBroken, was only launched less than two weeks ago and has gone viral around the country.
The website is very simple in tracking working and not working ice cream machines. The site displays a map showing all McDonald’s restaurant locations in the US, denoted by a cluster of dots. Locations with a working ice cream machine have a green dot and those without a working ice cream machine have a red dot. A column on the website displays statistics and currently, 7.54% of McDonald’s ice cream machines in the US are broken. In New York State alone, 15.22% of ice cream machines are broken.
Zahid first thought of McBroken earlier this year in July when he visited a McDonald’s outside of Berlin, Germany. He tried to order a sundae from a touch-screen kiosk, but no ice cream was available. He then tried ordering ice cream from the mobile app as well, but had no success there either. Zahid was upset about the ordeal, since all he wanted was ice cream, and the trip was for nothing.
Every time you visit a McDonald’s for ice cream and you hear the machine is broken, it makes you wonder if the machine really is broken or the employees just do not want to turn the machine on.
“There must be something that can be done about this,” said Zahid.
Zahid started with the McDonald’s mobile app, which already lets you place an order at any McDonald’s location. The app works like shopping on Amazon or GrubHub — you add the items you want to a cart and pay when you are ready to complete your order. However, if your chosen location does not have a working ice cream machine, you cannot add any items containing ice cream to your cart, as they are marked as “currently unavailable.”
“I love poking around in different apps and just looking at the security features and the internal APIs,” said Zahid. “I am pretty familiar with how to reverse-engineer apps. I was like ‘Okay, this should be pretty easy.’”
However, trying to launch McBroken turned out to be more difficult than Zahid thought. Initially, he created an API that attempted to add a McSundae from every McDonald’s location to its cart once every minute. The app figured out what he was up to and blocked him — “It was like, you can’t do this, you look like a bot,” he recalled.
After a night of trial and error, Zahid figured out the magic time frame. Now, his bot attempts to add a McSundae every 30 minutes. If the bot successfully adds the item, it lets McBroken know that the location’s machine is working. If it is not working, the location gets a red dot. A Twitter user claiming to be a McDonald’s employee has confirmed that the method works.
Zahid first tested McBroken in Germany, which has around 1,500 McDonald’s locations. He biked to every location in Berlin, placing manual sundae orders to determine if his bot was returning the correct information. It passed with flying colors. Today, he has expanded McBroken0 to the United States.
“I was like, this would be pretty interesting for Germany, but it would be amazing for the US, which is basically the capital of McDonald’s,” Zahid told The Verge.
Within 20 minutes of its launch, McBroken received over 10,000 visitors. It ran sluggishly at first, and eventually crashed.
“I’m running this on a server that costs $5 a month, so it was bound to crash,” said Zahid.
After an hour of troubleshooting, which involved offloading some traffic, Zahid now assures me that the site “works perfect.”
But he had intended the tool to be a joke — and is shocked to hear that people find it legitimately useful.
“I just made it for fun,” said Zahid. “But people were like ‘Wow, this is the best thing I’ve seen this entire week.’”
Who knows if McDonalds will end up shutting this operation down — but David Tovar, McDonald’s VP of US Communications, seems to be in support of it. “Only a true @McDonalds fan would go to these lengths to help customers get our delicious ice cream!” he tweeted this evening. For now, keep an eye on McBroken to prevent McDonald’s from breaking your heart.