What happens when something goes wrong?

We've all been there, we're completing an online form when kaboom! something goes wrong, there's a cryptic message on the screen and it doesn't look like the site you've just been on. Some users instinctively think they've done something wrong, that they've broken the web site. It takes real skill to break a web site, believe me I've done it before  ;)

I've been meaning to do this for a while now but yesterday I bumped it up my priority list as something was going wrong with one of my web apps. I fixed the problem and then moved onto creating a nicer page for the user if something goes wrong.

After thinking about it a while I came to the conclusion that even a nicely designed page letting the user know that something has gone wrong doesn't make them feel any better. I'm not sure if we can always fix that issue but we can attempt to.

Our new error page has a message and a form allowing the user to submit comments about what they were doing. I already log application errors but I though I'd add the human touch to my debugging. Users will now see a page with a message explaining that something has gone wrong and that we've been notified. In addition to that they can submit comments. This serves two purposes, one to help them feel like they can do something, that they can tell someone, it might make them feel less isolated about the error. Secondly they might be able to give us a little more information about what happened in human terms because let's face it sometimes those error messages are just too cryptic for anyone.