Stephen Foley: Forget the laughs, just put it right

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The Independent Online

US Outlook: Please. No more colloquial, whimsical error messages. For those of us on a short fuse when it comes to dealing with computers, there is only one thing more enraging than a website service interruption or a software bug – and that is a cutesy attempt to paper over the failure.

Twitter is the worst. "Hmm. Our name search server seems to have wandered off," it tells me, when I am doing important research.

Hmm? Is that it? I want an apology, not a stroke of your beard. The Fail Whale? I want to stick a cork in its blow-hole.

And as for FourSquare's "pouty princess" – don't get me started.

"Oops. Something went wrong," MySpace helpfully pointed out to me recently. I might be able to "please be patient" while you "try to fix this issue", perhaps, if there had been a "sorry".

But after "Oops"? No.

Now that these social media sites have become an important part of how we all live and work; popular far beyond the techfraternity, it is time for them to start using grown-up language.

Except I fear it is all too late and that the outbreak has afflicted even serious companies and serious products. Microsoft's Hotmail now feels the need to say "Hooray!" when I clear my junk folder of spam, for example.

And I quite like Google's Chrome, which it is trying to establish as a rival to Microsoft's Explorer web browser and I might have given it a second chance when it failed, taking 10 minutes of credit card form-filling with it. Except that this popped up: "Whoa! Google Chrome has crashed."

Whoa. Like I'm a horse.

Developers pride themselves on their jokey notes to each other inside the code of websites, but they have exploded, zit-like, into the user-facing side of their work and it is time to apply the anti-bacterials.

I can't tell you how happy I was to get this last night: "NETWORK_ERR: XMLHttpRequest Exception 101. Error encountered retrieving data."

Now, that's more like it.

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