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.