Why Can't Error Messages Be Fun?

I haven't had the opportunity to talk at all about Google's new Chrome browser yet. Which is a shame, because it's easily the best web browser I've ever used. If it wasn't for the complete and utter lack of an add-in ecosystem, I'd switch away from Firefox in a heartbeat. If you're curious about Chrome, check out the Scott McCloud comic Google commissioned to explain it. Or, heck, just try it yourself!

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2009/03/why-cant-error-messages-be-fun.html

I really don’t care if an error message is fun. What chaps me is that they are almost universally unhelpful. At least the error messages Jeff shows allow you to do something. Most merely vomit out the semantic equivalent of:


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Cute is cute for a short while.

Google and its tentacles have me feeling a little creepy lately, along with its news censorship, dark areas on Google maps, and so forth.

I’ll stay with FF for now, and resist the cuteness of Chrome.

We have a lot of internal web apps at out company, each with it’s own funny little name and quirks. Our reporting permission system is called Clamps, and when a user tries to view a report without the correct permissions - they see Yoda telling them ‘Permissions enough you don’t have. Request from help desk you will’.

Not exactly an error message, but a much better way of communicating this to our users than one black line on a page saying Restricted.

These errors are subtle homages to the classic Macintosh Sad Mac. Which is a tad ironic, as Chrome is very much Windows only, at least for now.

Chrome uses WebKit (as pointed out by another commenter) and even contains Safari in the user agent string. So it is not so ironic that it would use Sad Mac like error icons. It is ridiculous, though, that it is available only for Windows.

Remember - those who do not use Opera are forced to reimplement it (poorly)

The first ever UI design principal I ever learned was to not use humor in my software or error messages.

To this day I am disgusted by anyone who tries (ie be-bo.com) - aparently I can’t complain about the non hyphen version.

Sure it maybe funny the first few times, but after the 100th time you’ve seen it is just isn’t funny anymore. The fact google made this mistake is a retarded and totally strengthens my dis-like for chrome.

That principal is probably going to stay with me forever as I feel it is probably the only one that can’t be changed because it becomes main stream or that users now understand more complex tasks under a given context.

How would you like it if your online banking software had an error that removed all your money and then made a joke about it. Adding insult to injury? Hell yes. Sure banking software is a little bit of an extreme case but even in the above, you are trying to do something with a google product in a google browser, yet it broke and won’t let you. Then they go and try to make a joke about it? How is that funny.

Sorry if you like it, but to me it is just stupid.

Chrome is a joy to use, and in my opinion at least, it’s the first true advance in web browser technology since the heady days of Internet Explorer 4.0

Yeah, 'cause that XMLHttpRequest stuff that IE 5 introduced didn’t lead to anything interesting.

All I want from Chrome is an Open in Firefox context menu option. I still can’t get Chrome to play YouTube videos.

I’m afraid I can’t let you do that John. Aint life a bitch?

Awww, you really didn’t mean to transfer funds to Nigeria? Oops, my bad.

There are times when impersonal and dispassionate would probably be better. Better to have less errors.

Chrome is the browser that loves to love.

Anonymous, are you referring to this:


And if not, why not?

@Sean: Yes, Ctrl-Shift-T works. Not in Incognito mode, perhaps? (Which makes sense.)


I have fallen head over heels for Chrome. At first, there was still the pull of all the whizzy Firefox add-ons but you know what? I don’t miss them (apart from mouse gestures, still, a bit). And it’s just so fast - at starting up, at rendering (poor old IE7 feels glacial now). The UI is clean, the clever touches are useful (dragging tabs out into their own windows, tabs resizing appropriately after one is closed, etc). The browser bores will yell Hey, Opera/FF/Safari did [insert ui feature here] years ago! but they’ve cherry picked the best bits and pulled it together with a fantastic engine from the ground up. Simple, efficient and fun FTW.

I totally agree with you!

Once, one of my collegue got a pretty funny error message from eclipse.
After several attemps to checkout a project from a CVS Server, he finally got a message saying eclipse cannot connect to the url and : I HATE YOU :slight_smile:

While not an error, i’m quite fond of Firefox’s ‘Here by dragons’ warning when you try to goto about:config

While I was impressed with Chrome I would have to say that your wrong.

Chrome is a joy to use, and in my opinion at least, it’s the first true advance in web browser technology since the heady days of Internet Explorer 4.0.

Firefox, has always been a joy to use. Always felt faster and more efficent to me than its competition.

Chrome is, imo, more of a refinement of firefox, than a revolution.

Error Messages UI guidelines: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa511267.aspx

Always felt faster and more efficent to me than its competition.

Felt, yes. Past tense :slight_smile:

Chrome is, imo, more of a refinement of firefox, than a revolution.

Have you even read the Scott McCloud comic that Jeff links to?