Tag Archives: Error Messages

On the Topic of bad error messages

Yesterday, I was on my way home and had just missed my bus. No Problem, I thought, that’s the reason I have an account at StadtRad Hamburg¬†(an automated bike rental service we have in Hamburg). So, I made my way over to the next station while pulling out my phone to unlock a bike.

Now, there are two ways to unlock a bike (more, actually, but I only had access to two). One is via the StadtRad App, and one is via calling a special telephone number written on the bike. So, I started up the App, entered the number of the bike and pressed “rent”. And…

Englisch: "An Error has occured"
Englisch: “An Error has occured”

Oh well, it happens to the best of us, right? So, let’s retry this.

Hmm, still the same error. Interesting. Well, it’s not the first time the app screwed up (the last time I rented a Bike, the servers went down and did not register me returning the bike, leading to me being billed for three days for a bike I could not even ride because it was broken. Needless to say, I got my money back, but since that evening, I no longer trust their servers). So, I called the phone numer to unlock the Bike.

So, the Telephone system is fully automated and supposed to recognize your phone number if it is registered to your account, which mine was. So you can imagine my surprise when the friendly computer  told me that my phone number was not registered to any account and that I would be forwarded to a human for support (Poor bastard, having to work at midnight).

After verifying my account information, the friendly support rep informed me that my account had been locked because the credit card they had on file was about to expire and they (understandably) did not want to be left without a way to get the fees they are owed. This is not the problem. I don’t even have a problem with the fact that this left me having to wait 20 minutes for the next bus (a timeframe which would have been enough to ride the bike home).

My Problem is the way I found this out. I mean, seriously. “An Error has occured” in the app? Could you be any less specific? And then my phone number was “not connected to any account”? If my payment details are wrong, for gods sake TELL ME, and don’t give me unspecific or just plain wrong error messages. Writing good error messages is one of the most important things you have to do concerning usability. It’s not hard, people. So much bullshit could be avoided if a few programmers could have been arsed to implement a special case for this error (especially since this is a show stopper for the end user, and something he should be concerned about, instead of thinking “well, seems like they screwed up their servers again. I’ll just try again tomorrow”).

Please, PLEASE write decent error messages.

That is all.