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May 16th, 2002

The Best Error Page

Admittedly, one of the things that bugs me about the web is the bad error page. When a user makes a mistake or a typo, she shouldn’t feel lost or alienated. In fact, one of the things I mention to my students is that some new users think they’ve broken their computer somehow when they receive a web error. It’s true.

We’ve discussed wacky 404s before, but I’ve found some of the best over at Design Not Found. It’s a site from the folks at 37signals; devoted to contingency design, it covers what happens when something goes wrong. In some cases, it’s a missing file; in others, it’s a missing bit of information.

I feel that the best error page is one that totally holds the user’s hand – and assures her that it’s all right. While good error pages aren’t integral to the web, they certainly make things better.

Posted in Technology

FROM: Marcus Mackey
DATE: Thursday May 16, 2002 -- 12:49:58 pm
Rodger on that Mondo Bravo...

Then again there's just something about people that develop error messages. It's like historic that we get some cryptic numeric figure along with information on average that not even your experienced Mac/PC type knows what is without having some listing of the error messages and what they mean.

Why can't they just say "Hey man, you need more RAM" or "Sorry, but your one program tried to sneak into the paging file's free space so I had to kill it" or "E-mail your program's maker and tell them to hire better programmers"... stuff like that. :-)

Instead of...

"Your application has quit due to an error of Type 3, you should save all applications and restart."

Or a blue screen and hex dump... yeah, a lot of novices see that and the first thing they think is "Woah, I've got a virus! AHHHHH!" because it's jibberish they don't understand.

Error 404's just seem like something out of the traditional computer programmer's cryptic diary. Programmer's (in my eye) are the one's themselves that generate technophobia amongst novices that fear getting in over their heads. They know so much about what it is that they do, but fail to bring the "human" element into it to better understand the rest of the world. It's all a best scenario situation that "Ha! I'm a good programmer, my stuff won't crash, so they won't need to know anyhow."


FROM: King Random
DATE: Monday June 3, 2002 -- 10:37:32 pm
Odd, how you used a female pronoun in the last paragraph, almost as if women are the only ones who get error messages on the internet. I should feel insulted. And don't let the name fool you. King is only in there for the literary reference.

FROM: Atomic Bombshell [E-Mail]
DATE: Friday August 12, 2005 -- 9:41:32 pm
My error page may not provide much information, but it does prevent people from freaking out... It's a bit like when you get a shot at the doctor's office as a kid but afterwards they give you a lollypop.

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