While doing some random surfing, in between mocking up a potential new disaster (layout) in Photoshop, and whilst avoiding the washing up/ignoring the oven (oh shit my flat is on fire) I found a post at codinghorror.com about Creating User Friendly 404s.
The post is not terribly old and does include some relevant and interesting information, however, the first piece of advice is “drop the 404″. This is supposedly because non-savvy Internet users don’t have a clue what the number means and therefore will be baffled by its usage. I agree — users that don’t spend 16 hours a day at their computer won’t have a clue about it — but that doesn’t mean that we should leave it out altogether in favour of a long and probably boring message about what steps I can take to avoid doing this again.
As a developer, leaving the number 404 on the page is helpful for two reasons.
Firstly, when a client or colleague says to me “I’m getting an error and I don’t know what to do”, I can easily get them to tell me information that means something to me. People notoriously ignore what’s right in front of them, so asking someone to quickly look for a number is likely to prove more fruitful than explaining to them that they must read 12 paragraphs explaining the concept of a Page Not Found error.
Secondly, I do not need my ass wiping for me. I know what a 404 error is, I do not need to be coaxed into searching archives, browsing your top 5 recent posts or how to Google for a more relevant page. Instead of giving me these instructions, simply slipping in 404 (in the title perhaps) means I can immediately pick it up and be on my merry way.
Of course, the better solution is to not delete the pages or to set up redirects so that users don’t happen upon 404s in the first place.
I’m not sure if this was supposed to be advice or a rant, but it sure felt good to write about it. Excuse me now while I enquire about purchasing one “life”. I hear they’re going cheap these days.