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Do Error Messages "insult" You?


boen_robot
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Error messages  

7 members have voted

  1. 1. Are you insulted by error messages that treat you like an idiot?

    • No. I actually love those. Much better than "cryptic" error messages.
      5
    • They "annoy" me I guess. I wish all apps could just work, even when I make a mistake.
      1
    • Yes. Their very existence insults me. If I have an error, I can find it without a message.
      0
    • Only idiotic ones insult me, as sometimes, they miss the true reason for the error. I prefer cryptic messages.
      1
  2. 2. If you were to make a tool for developers, would you place a line to "everybody knows" and where?

    • I expect my users to know their stuff like every professional, and therefore be able to find what's wrong without me telling them. If nothing else, I'm still available for questions.
      0
    • With or without them having "know how", I'll try my best to assist them within the app itself.
      6
    • Developer tools, by definition, make stuff easier, so I'd likely go full speed and treat them as if they know nothing.
      1
  3. 3. When you fill out a simple form that requires data "everybody knows" how to make valid, what do you expect?

    • I expect the form to just work. Any error message is likely the fault of the form developer, not mine.
      0
    • If the data is invalid for some reason (e.g. typo), I expect an error message upon submittion.
      7
    • As long as there is a way to contact the form's developer, I don't really care. I like email better anyway.
      0


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Yesterday, I had an interesting discussion with a domain register to which I'm a client. I had to update the DNS record on my newly bought domain. Long story short, I screwed it up, but I didn't knew it until I contacted my register. There was no error message on their form to let me know what was the error (instead it said the changes are accepted). I asked the register to add this (in this case trivial) check to their form, but they refused because "everybody that works with DNS knows not to do that", and because "it would be insulting for anyone who is dealing with DNS to see this message".Now, I'd like to get some opinions on this kind of philosophy... Do error messages insult you? And I mean error messages that point something "everybody knows", and treat you like you're an idiot and don't know a thing about it? Do you place a line to "everybody knows" and if so - where? What do you expect from simple forms (in their case, it is indeed simple...) in which you enter data which "everybody knows" how to make valid?I've already told my register my position on this, but before I tell it to you, I'd like to see your opinions, as I wouldn't want to influence you with my opinion.

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I think error messages are important no matter how trivial. Even if it's something that "everybody knows" it is still possible to make small mistakes that could still keep things from operating as they should. That's called the "human error" factor.

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What insults me is when my users get error messages from my software and still pick up the phone and call me to ask what the problem is. I put a fair amount of effort into producing good error messages, so it's frustrating that users seem to ignore them (which they do) and call me instead.It's simply poor design of an application to expect all of your users to know a certain thing and not explain it. Someone could have just made a typo for example, they would want the software to tell them there's a mistake so that they can fix it. That's just good design practice. A lack of error messages simply decreases the usability of software.Look at all the questions people post on this forum, for example. How many times do we have to explicitly tell people to look for an error message in the Javascript console, for example, or to turn on error reporting in PHP, or to output a MySQL error if it happens? Without error messages people are lost, when something doesn't work and you don't see an error there's no indication of what the problem is or how to fix it. The first thing I usually do in that situation is to tell people how to find the error messages, so that should tell you something about the value of error messages in general.Moreover, if they think that everyone knows a certain thing then they don't know their user base. The fact that you had an error is proof of that. If everyone knew the information then you would have, too. So clearly the assertion that everyone knows the information is false, so considering the fact that not everyone knows the information, there's no excuse not to have it report errors when (when, not if) they happen. Like I said, it's just bad design not to do that. Frankly, it's sloppy, and borderline unprofessional.

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Perhaps I should mention that when they replied back, they said the form isn't "connected" to anything... it just sends them the request for them to manually process later the day. Therefore, they could (potentially...) fix such trivial errors themselves.In my case, the error was that I entered a single DNS record twice... which I did because I have only one DNS server, but their form has two fields for DNS servers and will not be accepted unless both fields are filled (for THAT error they do have an error message). Later (when they told me I can't have the same DNS twice), I added one of their DNS servers (which I don't use...) for the same reason, and they told me I can't have that either, since I don't use that DNS server... we resolved the issue with them adding me a second NS record which matches my first one. When I asked "Why can't I have just one DNS server? I did it on my previous domain...", they said "Normal sites don't have one DNS for redunancy's sake", to which my reply was "Yeah, I know that, but it's my problem if my only DNS is down... why not let me have it with just one DNS record?", to which the answer was something among the lines of "recent company policy" (I'm not sure... it was a phone call, and we were just about to end the whole thing, and both me and the support person were frustrated enough already).Does that change your position? (If it doesn't, don't say anything...)

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If the error is something that is going to stop them from doing their job, then they should make you correct it before submitting it. If it's something they can just fix and proceed without needing to ask you anything, then it's probably not a big deal.About the number of DNS entries, that can be expected. DNS redundancy is a good practice that a lot of companies have made a rule, they aren't alone in doing that. Of course, error messages are also a good practice..

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I'll also add this:The entire concept of an error message insulting someone is ridiculous. Consider the circumstances. If someone sees an error, they made an error right? Is it really insulting to be told a fact? If it's a fact that you made an error, how you can you be insulted by the software telling you that? That's like being insulted when someone tells you it's a cloudy day, because you don't like cloudy days. Facts just aren't really that insulting (they also have a well-known liberal bias).Of course, error messages that use insulting language are a whole other topic. Those are just fun.

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Part of what I teach is technical writing, and that includes things like UI. Good support end error messages are essential. The most deadly criticism you can make on a piece of technical writing is so common it has its own acronym: COIK, which means "Clear Only If Known."In short, sloppy UI cannot be excused on the premise that everyone who uses it knows what's going on. The assumption is untrue often enough that trouble is sure to come up.There's a type of software notice that I see a lot that I really like. It's the alert you get with a checkbox at the bottom that says, "Don't show me this again." If I feel like I need it, I can stick with the default. If I don't, I don't have to be "insulted." I can just change the default and never see the alert again. That lets ME decide if I'm experienced or knowledgeable enough to do without. The UI adds the information to assist and instruct the learner. It lets me make the call. That's good UI.What you've been through is garbage.

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The entire concept of an error message insulting someone is ridiculous. Consider the circumstances. If someone sees an error, they made an error right?
Nailed it! That's exactly what I told them (and what my position is), plus, "The people who know how to deal with DNS aren't going to see this message in the first place. This message is for people like myself who don't know that". Unfortunatly, they remained still on their ground, and convinved that this error message will insult their knowledgable customers.
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"The people who know how to deal with DNS aren't going to see this message in the first place. This message is for people like myself who don't know that". Unfortunatly, they remained still on their ground, and convinved that this error message will insult their knowledgable customers.
How exactly is it going to insult people who won't ever see it? :)
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The replies to this topic appear to be fewer than what I hoped for unfortunatly... so I have created a poll from this topic. So, please fill it out, and... I hope we can collect more than... let me see... 4 votes.

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I wish all apps could just work, even when I make a mistake.
Within reason, there's a little room for this, I think.Generally I prefer to bounce invalid data rather than correct it, because it is hard to know how a user would correct it on his own. Certainly you never correct a username or password. Your user would never know how to log in.But a thing like a phone number should be valid whether the user includes parentheses and/or hyphens or not. As long as it fits some recognized pattern. Likewise, a credit card number should be acceptable with or without spaces. A good regex can handle stuff like that.
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