Delicious Errors are Horribly Wrong

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:
Twitter Error

YouTube does it sometimes:
YouTube Be Right Back Error

Pownce likes to be geeky about it:

Vimeo even curses the subject:
Vimeo Error Message

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.

But yesterday (October 5, 2007) at 10:37am when PR maven Steve Rubel twitted that “ is down,” users of the Yahoo! owned bookmarking service were greeted by a disturbing message:

Apologies, it seems something is horribly wrong with our code

Horribly Delicious

I use all of these services to varying degrees, but 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 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 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. 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.


One Response

  1. This is great stuff. Too few companies take advantage of the branding opportunities that are staring them right in the face.

    It also reminds me of the Pecha Kucha presentation on YouTube about signs with empathy…

    In a world where authority of just about every type is being avoided or reviled, making announcements a little more personal is an opportunity to surprise and delight while promoting a specific action.

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