Quarter Life Crisis

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FAIL Pages

404 words

Shit happens, there’s no doubt about that. Hence, quite frequently the important question is how well you recover from that. Particularly in software, graceful handling of those situations is crucial. Unfortunately some of those error messages stand out far more than they should and have become iconic in their own right: be it Windows’ infamous Blue Screen of Death feature or Twitter’s FAIL Whale which tries to cutify FAIL.

There’s plenty of FAIL in designing FAIL pages on the web. The common 404 page doesn’t offer any help. People at Google tend to tell you to just retry (which, with their infrastructure, seems to actually help) and the FAIL Whale may be symbolic for current hipster companies who are pimped with enough money to get cute graphics for their error messages but lack the cash or common sense to actually offer help or avoid the problems.

Generally, putting your brand name on FAIL pages seems to be a questionable idea for me. I have seen loads of Microsoft Internet Information Server 404 pages over time. And because they all have the same ‘design’ and clearly state the software presenting the error message, said server software is clearly associated with FAIL in my mind. Taking Microsoft’s incompetence at software in general and the internet in particular, this may be a justified conclusion – be it because Internet Information Server is crap or because Microsoft’s software imperium attracts the less competent developers, thus producing more user-facing pain. Likewise it may just be poor perception management.

Another software which enjoys displaying its own 404 pages is the Typo 3 content management system which seems rather popular with large but not huge companies and institutions around here. Because I’ve seen plenty of those 404 pages, similar FAIL associations are attached to the software. Again, it could be the software itself which likes FAILing or is so hard to set up that it’s likely to FAIL. Or it may be the environments in which it is popular, which ensure the software is set up without due care.

Typo 3 error page

As helpful as presenting the technical reasons for the error may be to the web site’s developer, this is hardly ever helpful to the web page’s visitor (just as it’s laughably user-hostile to ask users to e-mail in a report about the issue when people have log files). And putting the software’s name right next to it may just trigger unintended associations.

September 25, 2010, 17:08

Tagged as error, FAIL, software, typo3.

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