Error Message Rogues Gallery

Here’s a rogues gallery of terrible error messages I’ve encountered personally; along with what the programmers and designers should do to fix them.

I’ve been saving this screenshot for years (To be exact, since January 10, 2000):
An unexpected error occurred, because it cannot be found.

An unexpected error occurred, because it cannot be found.

Seriously, WTF? This is one of the best (worst?) examples of bad copy I’ve ever run across. It is perplexing, it is uninformative, and it’s longer then it needs to be — unless there are other kinds of errors then “unexpected” ones.

It is how Mac OS 9 would complain if you tried to open an alias that pointed to a file that could not be found.

Fortunately, it has been fixed. As of Mac OS X 10.4, you get this nice dialog:
Alias Not Found Dialog (Mac OS X 10.4)
Not only does the new dialog clearly explains what’s wrong; it lets you do something about it.

This error message is at least lucid, but it drives me mad. It happens any time you try to install an iTunes update with Apple’s Software Update program, and iTunes is running.

Please quit iTunes before continuing with this update.

Two things are wrong here. First there is no way to cancel or defer the installation. Click “Continue”, and you are bludgened again and again with this message until you submit. Very unfriendly.

Secondly, the installer can and should do this for you. Instead of reading “Continue”, the button should read “Quit iTunes”, and hitting it should tell iTunes to quit. Asking programs to quit is a solved problem. It has been a solved problem for decades. It happens every single time every single Mac is shut down.

Dialogs should never force the user to do work that the program can do.

I use SBC DSL at my apartment. When it has problems, which it frequently does, it takes you to a webpage that displays an error message. So far so good. But when everything starts working again, it hijacks the next URL you try to load and takes you to this error message instead (note that hitting back or reload won’t give you the webpage you were trying to get to):
SBC Sucks
Everything is fine.  I’m sure you wanted to see this message instead of the page you were trying to load.

(*SBC logo*) Gateway Alert Notification
(*Error Logo*) Success
Resolution Successful
The error has been successfully resolved. Please close down your browser and restart it to continue browsing online.

(If you have the same router I do, you can see the error message here).
Lot’s of problems I’ll address them in order of severity.

Despite what the message says, you do not need to restart anything. The next page you load will get to you just fine. This is a horrible legal-department-inspired cop-out that ends up giving bad advice. Error messages should never give incorrect advice. It’s better have an uninformative message, then to tell the user to do something wrong, which will compound their problems ( that leads to disaster.)

Displaying this message eats the URL you were trying to load, and there is no way to get it back. “Reload” just reloads the static message.

This error message should not exist in the first place. If things are working, then you get the URL you ask for. Otherwise, you get an error message. There is no need to indicate things are back to normal, the fact that things are working normally indicates it just fine. Alerts are for exceptional situations, not routine or normal ones.

The message looks too scary. It is informing the user that everything is working, so it should not have the same harsh red coloring, and warning-sign icons as the “YOUR INTERNET IS BROKEN!” messages have. Even though this particular message should not exist, “Informational Alerts” are a valid dialog to show the user. The same loud shapes and colors used to announce a catastrophic error should not be used to announce that updates are ready.

The design sucks, and so does the copy. The simple message uses a staggering three headlines and two icons. It took a while for the enormity of that to hit me. Ether one of the bottom two headlines would have worked just fine.
The topmost headline is terrible. The word “Gateway” is technical jargon. “Alert Notification” is amateur copy — an alert is a notification and vica versa — ether word would work on it’s own, together they trip over each-other. “SBC Internet Service Alert” would be acceptable.
The rest of the copy is overly verbose, and ‘fair’ at best.

Finally none of the SBC error messages list the support number to call if something is broken at their end (which has happened). I suspect this is a chicken-shit move designed to drive down call-center costs by discouraging callers. Regardless of the cause, the effect is that all their error messages, including this one, are lacking critical information that would help a resolution.

The solution to all these problems is to omit “everything is working” messages. Let the program’s functionality, or the lack of messages indicate it.

Explore posts in the same categories: Bugs, Design, MacOSX, Usability

33 Comments on “Error Message Rogues Gallery”

  1. majestico Says:

    You did not provide a solution for the last error. I have yet to find a way to load the hijacked URL without restarting my computer or wireless connection.

  2. Unfortunately I don’t have a solution for us poor users, only for the designers.

    The Developers (SBC) should just drop the fucking screen right now. It could be done tomorrow as a firmware update — that’s the right solution.

    The only thing I can tell other users is that after upgrading from Mac OS X 10.4 to 10.5, the problem got a lot worse. On 10.4 I could type in the URL again, and it would load. But on 10.5, any attempt to load a URL that has been redirected to the “Everything is working” page keeps redirecting for the next 20 minutes to an hour. Restarting fixes the problem, but that’s more trouble then it’s worth for me personally.

    If anyone has a better solution, I’d love to use it.

  3. Carl Thompson Says:

    When I first got the warning I printed it out and it was so small that I copied and pasted Into Microsoft Word and reprinted. There is another message within the warning. Will try to attach.
    (To use this page to customize the features of your 2071 Gateway, you must have JavaScript enabled.&#xA0JavaScript is currently disabled in your browser or by the security software on your PC.&#xA0To enable JavaScript in your browser, please read the documentation associated with your browser.&#xA0To enable JavaScript disabled by the security software on your PC, please read the documentation for that software. )
    I loaded what they wanted but I still get warning any time I try to open my mail box have you seen it before????

  4. rob g Says:

    I’ve got the same message with an even more inane header at the top that says “Internet Explorer may display a security message that is prevents the file download needed to proceed with AT&T Yahoo! Registration.”

    Problem is, it’s a success error message telling me everything’s resolved and to quit my session to continue, but that a file download is needed to proceed with something I didn’t ask it to do. Wow, AT&T and 2wire. It feels like it’s selectively filtering content, since it only happens on certain websites and won’t let me continue.

  5. Ana Says:

    The last error is really frustrating! Just wondering does it have something to do with Mac because I never had this problem with PC…or maybe i did & didn’t know about it cuz the error message was different. I try clearing my chache, & even restarting my computer but i keep getting the error message :( It happens mainly with 2 websites for me, yahoo mail & facebook… it’s driving me nuts!

  6. tony Says:

    drop the 2wire and use a dsl modem with another brand(apple) router

  7. Jason Says:

    fix for safari is to delete the Safari plist file
    it can be found under:
    ~/Library -> Preferences

    ~ is your username

  8. majestico Says:

    it took me 6 months but i found a solution:

    First, go into the Management Console of your 2Wire at the address:
    Now, in the Advanced tab, click Configure Services. Once you are there, de-check the boxes for all “notifications” about connections or the like.

    • Carl Ray Says:

      Thanks Majestico, big help. I hope you know this is going to help soooo many people!


    • Tricia Says:

      Oh my goodness! You are a saint if this works! I have googled and googled, but apparently didn’t put in the right search terms. This has been driving me NUTS for SO long! Why would anyone design a feature like that? It reminds me of my dryer that will beep 4 times to say it is going to ignore the settings that I just put in and use the last settings that I entered before that (even if that was a WEEK ago!) unless I press cancel first. I always yell at my dryer – just DO what I tell you! If you’re smart enough to tell me you’re not going to do it, then you could have been smart enough to just do it. Who are these people who design products this way?

    • Nicholas Crawford Says:

      THANK YOU!

    • Anonymous Says:

      Still helping people… like me.

    • Anonymous Says:

      Freakin’ hell…. 3 years later and you’re still a savior. I hope this worked!

      Keywords for future tortured souls of at&t (att) and 2wire (2 wire):
      “gateway alert notification”
      “resolution successful”
      restart browser
      hijacked browser

  9. ddt Says:

    Thanks, majestico!

  10. nautical Says:

    Majestico – thanks!!

  11. Colin Says:

    Another thanks from me Majestico, this post seems to have cleared up those annoying interruptions in my Internet connection.

  12. Josh Says:

    Majestico, thank you very much for helping solve this annoyance.

  13. merio Says:

    ummmm….it didnt work WTF do i do now!!!

    • annoyed Says:

      this still doesn’t work for me.. what am i supposed to uncheck?

      • Tricia Says:

        At the bottom on the left, it says “advanced” and under that there is a link for “configuration settings” and you uncheck “broadband status notifications.” Good luck! (I tried it, but can’t tell yet because the problem is intermittent.)

  14. daniel Says:

    Still doesn’t work for me

  15. kevinrowlett Says:

    I’m still having problems as well. Any help?

  16. Lauren Says:

    So, the only thing I found to do, only in the case of facebook, but it may work for other sites too is to “cheat” it. I ended up typing in and adding onto the end of the web address, either your profile page or an application, for example (and this is just an example I’m not even sure if it is a real address) . By adding to the end of the address I guess the computer takes it as a different page. So thats all I have been able to figure out about this annoying notification. Sorry it doesn’t fix it, but I hope it takes away a little frustration :)

    • Tricia Says:

      I have found that if you visit another site (whether you want to or not) first in another tab (leave it open), then try to open the original site that your browser will not go to without closing first (again in a new tab), then it will usually work. If not, try doing the first step, then manually open a new tab and type in where you want to go. That should work. Good luck!

      Here’s another trick–when IE says it needs to close and you have lots of tabs open, then start a new instance of IE before you click okay on the close button from the error message and it will close the new instance, leaving your fully functioning tabs open in the original instance that supposedly needed to close. :)

  17. wonderful post about error messages. and the comments too.

  18. Keane Says:

    This blog post is so beautiful I could cry. Thank you for the fix!!

  19. mike neilson Says:

    Thanks for informative and impressive post
    Hughesnet Broadband

  20. Wonderful post about error messages,thanks for sharing such a informative and useful post.

  21. You did not provide a solution for the last error. I have yet to find a way to load the hijacked URL without restarting my computer or wireless connection,thanks for sharing the post.

  22. nice job guys,i like your simple themes.
    Thanks a lot for nice article.

  23. KP Says:

    there are two other things you can do when restart your browser message pops up,
    1) go to command prompt type in ipconfig/flushdns
    try reloading the page, make sure you don’t refresh the error message since that will just load it again

    if this doesn’t work then

    2) Kind of extreme but w/e: Clear history, for firefox go to tools options, privacy, clear history, then you should be able to access the page again (warning:this will clear all of your passwords and autocomplete for usernames)

  24. Anonymous Says:

    Респект автору! Нормальный сайт вот дизайн не самый подходящий, немного не удобный.

  25. Another way is to look at the different auto care near me jobs you can choose from.

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