It can be incredibly frustrating when things do not go to plan. In an online environment there are always going to be mishaps due to human error or some kind of technology or design failure. 

Nobody likes to encounter resistance in their daily activities, but the PC generation is used to things going wrong, as well as the ridiculous error messages that are sometimes displayed when problems occur.

How you communicate issues is highly important, and there are any number of ways of getting it right, or wrong, as we shall see...

So what can you do? 

If something breaks, be it a form, or a process, or a webpage or server, then you just have to get on with it. Visitors / users may instinctively want to bolt, but this is an opportunity for you to keep them engaged.

A neat error message can help reassure prospective customers, to encourage them to take a deep breathe and persevere, to do something differently, or to try again later. 

A rubbish error message can push people away or frustrate / enrage / leave a bad taste in the mouth. Sometimes they’re just laugh out loud funny (but not usually for the right reasons!).

There’s no rulebook here: you simply have to do what’s right for your brand, using the right tone of voice. We’re currently showing a video of our CEO falling on his ass while skiing, whenever something breaks. 

The one guideline I’d suggest is to be honest and clear in your messaging. There’s no point baffling users, nor leaving them with a WTF face.

So let’s take a look at a few examples of error messages from the world of technology and websites. Some are more amusing (and perplexing) than others…


Keyboard controller failure: “Strike the F1 key to continue”

Blinded by science / guff

Critical Error: “General protection fault!”

In total denial

“No error occurred”

But why?

It might be this that or the other...

Kernel freakout: “You need to restart your computer.”

A Mach 3 fix at Facebook?

“Search is currently unavailable. Please try again later or right now.” 

The wrong message given the circumstances

“Sorry – to use BBC iPlayer you need the following” (displayed when ‘the following’ are all installed)

Downright perplexing

“Evolution error. Error while refreshing folder. Success. Ok.”


Even less of a clue

One for the philosophers

“Test cannot be started because it already does not exist.”

All your base are belong to us

Blimey... “info not got”

Clarity, obviously…


Pretty pictures



A lighter tone

"Try wiggling the cable"

 “Please twiddle your cables and then try again.”

“Im in ur serverz making thingz better”

“A team of highly trained monkeys has been dispatched to deal with this situation.”

What else have you seen out there...? Comments and suggestions below...

Chris Lake

Published 3 April, 2009 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (8)

Save or Cancel


Love the cat one, although I have to say the Mac kernel error fills me with dread as you know when you see it that something is usually seriously wrong!

over 9 years ago


Matt Hill

Some classics there! :-)

Years ago I recall an error generated by Windows 95. Not sure how it happened, but the error message helpfully stated "There was a software or hardware error." Really? I'd never have guessed.

Early versions of Windows would also create an error message in open/save dialogue windows: "Drive C: cannot be selected right now. Try again later." Hmmm... that's my main hard-drive. How long should I wait?

over 9 years ago


alex shliomovich, owner at SourDiesel

Awesome & funny list but you forgot one major one! The Notorious "Blue Screen of Death!"

over 9 years ago



Ipod's "exclamation mark folder of doom"

over 9 years ago


Ian Brodie

I'm always amused by the numerous error messages that say "Unexpected Error ...."

Is there ever an error that's expected?


over 9 years ago


Jacqui Darlow

Our DoggySnaps one is quite nice (well we think so!)

over 9 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

You forgot Econsultancy's own error message -- Ashley's ski crash.

Worth a mention.

over 9 years ago

Michaela Carmichael

Michaela Carmichael, Marketing Freelance Consultant at Freelance Marketing Consultant

I like lastfm's approach here.

over 9 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.