Curious? That seemed like a clever title, given the subject, and my lack of pithy title for the post.
I’ll back up a bit. I’m still slogging through feeds from before OpenWorld, which is pretty tough considering Paul’s got me cranking hardcore on a new project. I plowed through Slashdot today and found an item linking to “The Thirteen Greatest Error Messages of All Time“.
Stop now and see if you can guess the winner. No hints.
Error messages are an interesting subject to me, and I found it extremely funny (and awesome) that someone has built a t-shirt business around errors, called Errorwear. Bonus points for 403 Forbidden available in women’s sizes only, “You don’t have permissions to access /girl on this server.”
As a product manager, error messages are a necessary evil. I design and build a product to work, not fail, which makes the prospect of planning for failures a bit icky. No one wants to write error messages, and often, developers end up writing messages during testing when unforeseen failures occur.
The best error messages are are clear and concise, but the reality of software makes writing clear and concise error messages a near impossibility. I would often wonder if anyone bothered to read error messages.
According to another gem in my Reader from a few weeks ago, a recent study of users failed to read popup warnings, mindlessly clicking OK just to dismiss a dialog box, regardless of what OK meant. Hard to excuse this, even for web browsing.
Even if they ignore error messages, people expect to be told when something goes awry. Think about the last time an application just quit or froze unexpectedly. Bummer, eh? Rich and I whipped up a funny (in our estimation) version of the generic “something went wrong” error message we use for Connect.
We throw a genric Error 500 page with “game over man” and some other general verbiage. The page also includes the sound bite of Bill Paxson’s “game over man” line from Aliens, for giggles. I guess funny error messages aren’t expected either because at least one user thought the site was a joke and sent us feedback asking just that.
Anyway, if you use Oracle at all, you’re familiar with the error codes book (or HTML page). A few of my favorites:
- ORA-00600:internal error code
- ORA-00942:table or view does not exist
- ORA-01031:insufficient privileges
- ORA-01034:ORACLE not available
No Oracle errors made the best list, and the winner wasn’t really a surprise. It’s your old friend, BSoD in all its incarnations. I’d like to say I’m done with BSoD, but alas, my wife’s XP box still throws it from time, to time.
So, what’re your favorites? Have any insights into error messages? Find the comments.