I'm in the middle of coding a bespoke CMS for a company and if there is one thing I hate it's coming up with good copy for "flash" messages (short messages that provide user feedback.)

I know how important it is to provide good feedback to the user when a system breaks but as a programmer it's a right pain because I think in technical terms and it's very hard to effectively communicate what I want to say in layman's terms whilst simultaneously keeping it short, concise and polite.

Of course, there are a myriad of ways an application can go wrong, it's different for almost every project and internationalization/localization are also big issues.

So I was wondering if are there any resources out there that attempt to provide a standard library of feedback messages? Or if not would you be interested in a community driven project such as this?

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    You mean technical implementation or a set of error texts? – Nikita Prokopov Mar 8 '11 at 14:31
  • What's wrong with "An error has occurred. Please try again later"? – Charles Boyung Mar 8 '11 at 20:28
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    @Charles Boyung "An error has occurred..." is just echo of nineties. – igor Mar 9 '11 at 22:11
  • @Nikita Prokopov I mean a set of error/informational texts for things like bad user input ("You haz form errors do it again") or when a user completes an action successfully ("Congrats dumbass you just deleted every article on the front page. Pack your bags you're fired.") Of course I'm exaggerating here but in my custom CMS framework (vanilla install) there at around 20 different messages that provide constant feedback to the user (in an unintrusive way, similar to stackoverflow) on what the system is doing. – rich97 Mar 10 '11 at 3:00

I don't think you need specialized language for different server errors. 404 errors should be unique, sure.

But this is the best thing I've ever done with server errors:

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An error is the best way to a lose a customer. But with this method you're giving the customer a very easy way to report the error and feel like they're being taken care of.

I'd spend extra time with your error reporting mechanism too. If you can gather the stack trace and error message that'll help. But it's going to help even more if you can put the error into context. So gather things like form post data at the time of the error, or session variables, or anything else that'll help you diagnose the problem. Ideally you shouldn't have to ask what this person was doing before the error.

This is also very effective at lighting a fire under your butt, so to speak. When customers request that you fix the problem and notify them when it's resolved, then suddenly these errors have an even greater sense of urgency. You will naturally then spend more time making sure these errors don't happen in the first place. At least that's the effect it had on me.

  • I'm not necessarily just talking about server errors. I'm talking about things like feedback on bad form validation or successfully completed actions when the user is using the system. Sorry If I didn't make this clear, but I agree that error reporting is essential (I make the system send me an email any time something breaks) and that's a really cool idea with the "we will contact you when the error is resolved." :) – rich97 Mar 10 '11 at 3:10

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