Most web 2.0 companies use a more colloquial language when ‘conversing’ with their visitors. From time to time their sites are upgraded or tweaked, or go down unexpectedly, and the company needs to create error messages to explain what has happened. This is often used as a (rarely seen) platform for the company to express it’s own quirky personality to its user base.
Twitter is notorious for this:
YouTube does it sometimes:
Pownce likes to be geeky about it:
Vimeo even curses the subject:
All of these messages are reassuring, humourous, or tell you what to do next. The tone and manner used is in keeping with the brand personality. They talk directly to the visitor and treat them like human beings. This is a welcome change from sites that issue cryptic and numbered alert pages that not even a computer can understand.
Apologies, it seems something is horribly wrong with our code
I use all of these services to varying degrees, but del.icio.us is where I have put in the most work. For years now I have faithfully tagged and described 1158 pages on the internet. I use del.icio.us to track and categorize research projects, label tools, and mark future trends for reference. So when I read this my blood went cold. It looked like del.icio.us might have lost everything. It looked like the site might be terminally broken. Clicking on the ‘Return to the home page’ link exacerbated the fear by simply reloading the same error message.
Del.icio.us is slowly rolling out the new 2.0 version of their site, so it is conceivable that they might be down infrequently for maintenance. But it is another thing entirely to glibly claim that the code— the underlying framework of all our faithful taxonomy— is horribly wrong.
Yes, my reaction is exaggerated. I know the message was just a poor choice of words. But it made me feel paranoid instead of assured, which reminded me how important it is to speak to customers, consumers, users, with a consistent and authoritative voice. When there is trouble, be honest, let them know what’s going on, give them a laugh. But try not to scare them or undermine their confidence.
Because that message is your brand.