I used to put hidden messages in programs. I’d wait for unsuspecting users to generate an error and then display something like “I’m sorry, you can’t do that, that’s rubbish”, or “Please enter a number. Not a name. Least of all your name”, or “Boing! Not Correct!”. but then, see, I was just writing some subroutine in a telnet client or something which only worked on a single server that a handful of people had the misfortune to interact with. I was young. it was funny. once.
since then, I’ve often seen similar mildly-amusing-once-if-that messages generated by alert conditions or error messaging in applications that I’m trying to use to achieve some workpath goal. not necessarily a particularly important goal, but all the same, its during an interaction I’m having using an application I’m trusting to just enable me to get on with it. usually its just a trivial cuteness, like an ‘oops!’ when I’m trying out the beta of brizzly and it fails to do something because the twitter api has prolapsed. sometimes its more terse and slightly more annoying, like a ‘something is wrong’ followed by a calamitous fail that condemns my unsaved spreadsheet formulas to an inglorious uncertain document recovery undeadness. but sometimes, its an overly smug acknowledgement that something went wrong but, hey, its ok, because things go wrong, right? we don’t know why, but, you know, never mind.
I do mind. I am slightly irritated that it is acceptable that an error condition can be apparently rendered less important simply by adding a spoonful of pith and a continue button. I’d almost prefer a window.open() with a stack trace dump in it, which, if you don’t know what that is, is as dull as it sounds, but at least its specific, and relevant. the latest incarnation of this creeping error-as-friend experience that I’ve been invited to share is the ‘well, this is embarrassing’ condition as blarted out by the most recent release of firefox. simply put, if firefox crashes unceremoniously, probably because my laptop battery has run out or something, then the next time it starts, it throws a mini hissy fit and refuses to load the tabbed content it apparently knows that it should be loading. which it finds embarrassing. maybe not as embarrassing as the fact that I seemed to be preoccupied with pubs and hardware last time firefox crashed, but, ooh, sorry, a bit embarrassing, all the same. I mean, the rest of the error is quite specific and possibly even quite helpful, but nonetheless, the context in which it sits is now one of over-friendly banter, which does nothing to reassure me at all.
I might be being a tad over-zealous. after all, its just a little jokey headline. but I’ve now seen it about 9 times. and its starting to grate. and that’s my point, such as I ever make a coherent one. be careful where you pith.