Socializing Error Message Pages

Error Messages: Help Users to Understand What Went Wrong

While reading this post from ReadWriteWeb (@rww), I had a thought.

Error message pages should be wikis.

Applying crowdsourcing to error message pages creates a dynamic forum that could benefit both users and developers.

Instead of request-response support through email or trouble tickets, i.e. asking for steps to reproduce, environment, etc. that information could be collected immediately on the error page itself.

Plus, the historical record of other users who hit the same issue and perhaps resolved it, could benefit people seeing the same issue for the first time.

And if the error page provided unhelpful text, a wiki could resolve that, even mitigate the anger many people feel toward software failure by providing a burn book.

This has promise. Must noodle it.





  1. If your users are kind-hearted, forgiving souls who genuinely want the experience of others to improve as a result of their experience, yes, this will work well. Some people are that way.

    On the other hand, if your users are, perhaps, less than happy with your company or service, they may have less than honorable things to write on said error page wiki. Just sayin.

  2. Sure, I get that, and I’ve been addressing those types of concerns for nearly four years. The truth of the matter is that most web services, especially enterprise ones, are not populated by 4chan. As soon as you give users a stake in the game, they tend to self-police for the greater good, if only to raise their own profiles. But yeah, the occasional flame would occur. Who’s to say it’s not deserved though? If my product fails, I can’t fault you for pointing that out, I can only point out there are nice ways to do so :)Oh, and welcome. Don’t think I’ve seen a comment from you before, good to hear a new voice.

  3. I like the idea…I’ve always spent (way too much) time on collecting this type of information on systems that I am responsible for, which helps me to be proactive. I’ll usually include a “report bug” link too. I like the idea of a wiki a bit better though…very interesting idea.

  4. The Fail Whale still makes me laugh.

    The wiki would only be a good idea if you have the infrastructure to handle it, and admins to fix all the wrong crowdsourced data. Crowdsourcing of this type of information would only work with a fairly homogenous and sophisticated user group. Most of the time, there is much greater variance in user sophistication, and the ones who get errors are the ones who least get it.

  5. I think the homogeneity of users would help. Since most would continue to ignore the error, you’d have the sophisticated ones doing the edits. It could become almost an in-place support forum.

  6. It’s critical to capture information about the steps that led to the error immediately and accurately. So a wiki would help a lot with that. Then there’s the issue of the error message being too generic. The content could also influence that, since these are real world errors vs. testing errors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.