The Bloglines Plumber

By on January 2, 2006

If you’ve used Bloglines lately, you’ve met the Plumber. The Bloglines Plumber is what you get on Bloglines when they have some sort of technical error, down for updates, or etc.

The Plumber is interesting, because he isn’t just an error message. He puts a human face on the error message, and makes it a little funny, to boot. I doubt that someone at Bloglines sat down and planned The Plumber. He seems like something you’d put in on a lark and end up leaving in because he gives the app character.

I have to admit, though, that on an emotional level, I somehow feel better about seeing the plumber than I would feel about seeing a professional “sorry” type of error message. As a result, I think I’m more tolerant of errors on Bloglines than I am on, say, Basecamp (although, to be fair, I’m paying for Basecamp, and it has info I need, vs Bloglines, which is free and only has info I want).

As Bloglines has grown, it’s had an increasing number of problems (no knocks on Bloglines here, scaling big is always hard), so The Plumber is turning into a frequent visitor. As it’s happening more often, I notice that The Plumber is becoming more irritating, as if something in my head says, “Maybe if they spent more time on stability than on cute errors, I’d be reading SlashDot right now.”

So as developers, can we buy more tolerance from users by making error messages “fun”? And at what point does it go from making people chuckle to ticking them off? Can you start with ‘cute’ and then switch to ‘professional’ if errors increase in frequency? There’s a whole aspect of human-computer interaction here that I’ve never really considered. Tell me what you think of The Plumber.



  1. Whilst the bloglines plumber puts a human face on an error message, i wish they chose a different face! I want to wipe that smug look off his face :(

    I photoshoped the bloglines plumber image and posted it on my blog a month ago when bloglines was down for 3 days straight. It’s probably a bit harsh but hey i was annoyed.

    view the picture and post here.

    P.S. Did anyone see the bloglines pirate? It was the same guy, they just changed it to make him into a pirate, that one was good.

  2. I’m 50/50 on the guy.

    On one hand it gives me -some- solice in knowing that someone is aware of the problem.

    On the other I would like to see different ones for different issues. Meaning if they are doing some upgrades, have one showing him working. If a sql query goes wacko, again have something that let’s the person know they are aware of the issue and are working on it.

    As for the tone to be used, you can’t make everyone happy all the time. Some people don’t have a clue to the amount of work that it takes to keep something like bloglines up, and to be perfectly honest, they don’t really care so no amount of cute error msgs will ever keep them happy. For people who have a basic idea, its nice to see.

    Just my $0.02

  3. Does anyone know if the plumber has been appearing almost non-stop for the past few days because Bloglines is really having problems? I am getting updated feeds, and the notifier app that lives in the Windows system tray continues to notify me of the presence of new feeds, but clicking on the sys tray icon always gives me the plumber.

    Also, I can go to my account directly by typing in the URL, and everything seems to work.

    I tried reinstalling the notifier, and nothing changed.

    Any suggestions?


  4. I wrote to Bloglines. They responded, in part:

    “Thank you for the bug report. We believe we have corrected the problem you reported and regret any inconvenience this may have caused. Please try clearing your cache and refreshing your web browser; the Notifier should then pull up your account correctly.

    Either they really fixed something, or just clearing the cache did it. In any case, it works. Hope this helps someone.

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