Error Politics

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A Snowy Day in the Village
A Snowy Day in the Village

My television offended me last night. No, not a television programme the actual TV. We haven’t quite got the networking in the house finished so I put a video file I onto a memory stick and shoved it into the telly’s USB port.

“Invalid File Format”

It told me. So I fetched a laptop, plugged that into a spare HDMI port and guess what – it played the file fine.

This may seem like a trivial issue but it does highlight just how exposed we as programmers are to the user. Errors are a particular area of concern because the marketing people will agonise for hours about exactly what the splash screen should look like, but they rarely have any input at all on what error messages should say.

Being able to provide the user with error messages that are useful and informative can greatly improve the user perception of the product – so when you’re writing error messages just have a think about how a user will react if they see it. Exception.ToString() might not be terribly useful to them, for instance.