Monday, November 14, 2005

The server that had an error

I understand that programs have bugs. I also understand that there are errors that programmers may not be able to anticipate. What I don't understand are messages like these:
Server Error This server has encountered an internal error which prevents it from fulfilling your request. The most likely cause is a misconfiguration. Please ask the administrator to look for messages in the server's error log.
There are so many things wrong with the message. First, even if I am interested in contacting the "administrator" I have NO way of doing so. There is no email address, no hyperlink to click, no phone number, nothing. Then, it's a question of which administrator: the server administrator, or the web page administrator? I don't know. You also have to wonder that if the message tells a user to contact the administrator, why can't the program tell the administrator directly? Why use me as the conduit? And, what does the user do in a situation like this? Try again later? Give up? Bang his head against the wall? (Correct answer: Blog about it.) Another problem with this message is that it doesn't offer the user a way to recover from the error. There is nothing the user can do and most likely the user will end up irritated. Irritated users don't stay as customers for very long, especially when there are other options. It's one thing to have a message like this in a back-end system, quite another to present itself to a user. PS: This is a real problem that I encountered a few minutes ago while trying to login to a website that wanted some information from me. I can't give the information because I can't login.

2 Comments:

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Jnarin said...

When I'd been going through some software usability design books, they said that the most important part of it was the error message. Should convey enough information, but not everything. :-) I guess everyone should think twice before writing that few lines of messages that pop up when an error is encountered.

 
At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Percy said...

I wouldn't say that the message is the most important part, but yeah, it makes sense to pay a little attention to the message.

 

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