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When Error Messages Attack

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Hey guys, it’s Jay, and today I want to talk about error messages and when error messages attack, when they make things worse than they absolutely had to be to begin with. Now, if you have a website or you’re managing a website or you’re in any way involved with a website, or really any […]

Hey guys, it’s Jay, and today I want to talk about error messages and when error messages attack, when they make things worse than they absolutely had to be to begin with.
Now, if you have a website or you’re managing a website or you’re in any way involved with a website, or really any sort of digital operations, you have some error messages. And historically, in many cases, error messages are created by programmers. And I don’t want to talk out of turn here, but programmers are not typically known as an occupation for their empathy or their terrific writing skills. And I had an unbelievable experience last night with this exact set of circumstances.
I was flying from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, back home to Indianapolis with a stop in Minneapolis and the Gogo Inflight Internet service would not work on my plane. Now look, I get it, it’s a first-world problem, oh no I can’t get wifi on the plane. As Louis C.K. often talks about like, look, we’re bouncing things off a satellite here, maybe our expectations shouldn’t be quite so high. And I get that, but I fly Delta so much that I actually pay for the annual wifi pass. It’s $500 a year. And I’ve got to tell you, there is almost no more depressing credit card charge that you can do than an annual wifi pass on an airline, but it actually pays off, of course, over time. It’s much less expensive to do it annually than it is flight by flight.
So I expect the wifi to work, and in fact, one of the reasons why I fly Delta so much is that they have wifi on fundamentally every aircraft. And so you know you can always check email, you can get some work done, et cetera. And I get a lot of work done in the air, so when I can’t get that work done it can be terribly irksome and frustrating.
So that’s what happened last night. I’m trying to get on the wifi and it won’t work and it won’t work, and then it starts to give me these error messages, and I want to show you exactly what the error message looked like.
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So here is the actual error message that I received on my browser:
Error! The requested URL could not be retrieved. While trying to retrieve the URL, very long mysterious URL, the following error was encountered: unable to forward the request at this time. This request could not be forwarded to the origin server or to any parent caches. The most likely cause for this error is that the cache administrator does not allow this cache to make direct connections to origin servers, and all configured parent caches are currently unreachable. Your cache administrator is webmaster.
Okay. I don’t really know what that means. Like, I have been in technology … I’ve been in technology for 25 years, and look, I’m not a programmer, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve been in the technology business for 25 years and I have literally no idea what that error message means.
I mean, if you sat down and said okay, let’s take a bunch of words and some monkeys, right, and have them assemble those words, that’s what you would show up with, right? It’s like refrigerator magnet poetry, but in the form of an error message.
So the first mistake is it says at the very top error, like as if something terrible has occurred with your computer in the middle of the flight. So that’s not well-handled. There’s not a single regular sentence or word in there to assuage people’s fears or give them some sense that somebody’s going to take care of this or that everything is okay. So this is not hard. This is a suicide, not a murder.
Gogo Inflight guys, I love your service typically, but this is unconscionable. How many people do you think everyday use Gogo and because of clouds or weather or server or who knows they get this error message? Is it 1000 times a day? 500 times a day? 10,000 times a day? I don’t know, it’s a lot, but it wasn’t just me.
And how long has this been going on? Years and years and years and years and nobody’s ever said, “Hey guys, you know what? Maybe we could write this error message in a way that makes a little more sense, that’s a little more customer-friendly.”
So here is my homework for you, Jay Today listeners and viewers. If you’re involved in some sort of website, as soon as you’re done watching, just go to a page on your website and try to break it and see what your error message contains. You can do a lot better, and Gogo Inflight Internet can certainly do a lot better.
Until next time, probably Tuesday, I’m going to go talk to my parent caches or whatever that is. I’m Jay Baer. This is Jay Today. Thanks as always to Emma. See you later.

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