Sunday, June 07, 2015

Decision 2016: the 404 error page war

By Frank Moraes

Gentle reader, Daniel Bean has written the most important article yet about the 2016 presidential election, The Presidential Candidates’ 404 Pages, Ranked. For those of you who are not computer freaks, a 404 page is what a web server sends out when it can’t find the actual page requested. It used to be, one would usually see just an awkward and ugly page proclaiming, “Not Found.” This was generally followed by some lightly technical jargon about URLs and ports. But it has pretty much always been possible to have custom error page and now most websites use them. And as Bean points out, often to great effect.

The Uninspired and Just Plain Bad

But not always. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina both have standard 404 pages. They are very similar to the error page for Frankly Curious — boring but not embarrassing. Ted Cruz manages error pages by loading his home page. That may seem like a good idea, but it is actually very bad from the standpoint of usability. It confuses users, but then most Ted Cruz supporters are already pretty confused.

Lindsey Graham, however, has a 404 page that is embarrassing. It the default kind that says, “I couldn’t be bothered to provide a proper error.” So the visitor is told, “Not Found.” This is followed by the standard detailed but useless message, “The requested URL /franklycurious was not found on this server. Apache Server at landing.lindseygraham.com Port 80.” The question comes to mind: if he can’t hire a competent web designer, how is he going to fill his cabinet? (Note: if you go to his direct site — instead of the subdomain, which is the first thing I found — he does the same stupid thing that Ted Cruz does.)

But what is amazing — thrilling in its total horribleness — is Rand Paul’s 404 page. It is a standard page from CloudFlare with a search box and “results” from the site. It looks just like those awful pages that come up when a website’s name registration lapses. But the truly horrible part is that regardless of what you enter into the search box, the same results come up. I’m sure this will be fixed soon, so don’t miss your chance to have Rand Paul waste your time and bandwidth!
The Inspired and Often Good

Bean didn’t much talk about the bad 404 pages. He focused on the good ones. And there are a number of them. Shockingly, God’s elder brother Rick Santorum has a snarky but compelling bit about Hillary Clinton. I think this is a political mistake — it uses that image of Clinton in sunglasses texting where she looks cool and in charge. But at least the page looks good. I think it looks a lot better than Marco Rubio’s page. Of course, Marco Rubio’s whole website kind of sucks.

Martin O’Malley’s 404 page is okay. It’s him on a horse with the headline, “Hold Your Horses. You’re Going the Wrong Way.” But I’m with Bean in not really liking it. It seems vaguely embarrassing and I’m not sure why. He might have been better off with the Carson or Fiorina model.

Hillary Clinton’s 404 page is charming. It features a picture of the young Clintons with Donald Duck with the headline, “Oops, that link wasn’t what it was quacked up to be.” Bean considers it the best. I understand this; I just don’t agree.



I think there is something to be said for having a little dignity. In Clinton’s case, the “fun” angle might be good because people tend to think of her as kind of intense.

Mike Huckabee’s 404 page is nice, and more straight forward. It isn’t quite as good as it could be because the image of Huckabee fishing isn’t great. And it too has a sad joke, “Oops! Looks like you caught the wrong page.” It’s a little bit charming and a little bit, “Ugh! My grandpa’s on Facebook.” But that’s fine.

It isn’t surprising that I like Bernie Sanders’ 404 page the most: I’m inclined to like him. But I really do think it is the best in an objective sense because it is soBernie Sanders. It is a short YouTube video that starts automatically. Sanders explains that you have come to the right website but not the right page. And it is said with the same kind of direct and authoritative tone that he explains why the minimum wage needs to be raised. 


Regardless, I think it is great that these candidates took the time to create customer 404 pages. The truth is that it is only freaks like Daniel Bean (and me) who are likely to ever see these pages. But I’m really glad that Bean brought the issue to my attention. I think he was wrong, however, when he wrote, “You probably should not base your vote in the upcoming election on this.” You definitely should! And by that, I mean that you should vote for Bernie Sanders.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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