The Art of Error Messages

I believe I need a new blog post category – called  for example art created from collections of words and phrases spit out by computers. Or is Pop Culture just fine?

So far we had spam poetry and search term poetry – but these might not be the only art forms eligible for the new meta-category!

A quick primer for those new to this:

The following is a hybrid search term + spam poem (spam in italics), all collected from my WordPress stats and spam queue. You are allowed to add titles (in bold). Search terms and spams must not be reused in different poems.

On Contradiction

oxymoron poems
narrating events
i wasn’t aware of the many ripples and depth to this story
there is a special day
why do particles radiate from the sun
can a mouse get into a microwave
irony practice
this site is ruthless to others

Now I have just stumbled upon the following WordPress error message, actually triggered by my (careless) attempt to empty my spam queue – filled with more than 100 spams that will not morph into poetry any more.

This is poetry in its own right – no more tuning required:


 Something has gone wrong with our servers.
It’s probably Matt’s fault.
We’ve just been notified of the problem.
Hopefully this should be fixed ASAP,
so kindly reload in a minute
 and things should be back to normal.

Generally, error message art might rather be presented ‘as is’ and does not require that much creativity.

I do remember the best out-of-office reply I have ever received. Though this is not strictly an error message I believe it falls under the same category.

This is not 100% verbatim, but the last sentence is – burnt into my neurons for later re-use. The time is now:

<some business-y explanation, see corporate art below>
I might not be able to respond to e-mails as quickly as normally.
But what is normal?

Geeky art can be quite rude as well, comments in source code used to contain strong language. And error messages used to be close to source code comments in the old times when there were no usability analysts yet.

On the other hand there is corporate error message art which is funny accidentally.

Typical corporate error message art comprises OOF replies similar to the following (real-life example):

Normally, we respond to all email messages within one business day.
Unfortunately, we have been unable to meet this goal with your message,
because of the large number of questions and requests recently received for our support staff.
We have sent you this note to confirm that your message is in our system
and to let you know that we will respond
with a personal response as quickly as possible.

This is very close to Mike Daisey’s take on this – in 21 Dog Years – Doing Time @ He explains how his friend Warren, the Jonny Cash of customer service finally explained customers he would sacrifice his first-born son on an altar of his own making – to compensate for the late delivery of the Harry Potter book.

There is also a sub-sub-category called corporate policies art. This is more similar to Samuel-Beckett-style dialogues.

I can recall my attempt to create a Google+ account:

The true art part in bold, the rest is just explanatory comments – much like this version of Worstward Ho with comments.)

I tried to use Subversive Element as a name.
Your name does not meet our Name Policies

Tried to upload the picture of my iconic virus.

Are you sure people will recognize you in this photo? It does not seem to have a face in it?

I finally succumbed to The Guidelines and uploaded a ‘normal’ image.
This image seems to be rather small. Do you have a better one?

Finally accepted though. The next step suggested by Google is
Be awesome!

6 Comments Add yours

  1. I still remember the good old loathed windows error messages – if they had been funny, I wouldn’t have minded as much, and blue might still be my favorite color

    1. elkement says:

      I need to collect error messages more systematically, I guess somewhere out there are many websites hosting collections of funny error messages. The Bluescreen-of-Death-style blue still makes me cringe ;-)

  2. I sense a bit of the ‘subversive element’ in this post :>) You’ve given me a couple of fun ideas of what to do on certain sites that require registration, though! Oh–and never thought of spam or 401 type messages as art, but will from now on; new lenses with which to view the world.

    1. elkement says:

      Welcome to the community :-)
      So far I am aware of 3 more active poets, chronicled in I guess your articles would provide great raw material for search term poetry – just thinking about queries on mooses you get now!
      I had been intrigued by search terms ever since – in the old times I used to parse my non-blog web server’s log files with a text editors to find real gems – in particular I love those full sentences in natural languages. Some searchers use Google as a true oracle. And spam has really been “improved” considerably recently – so flattering, as pointed out my fellow spam poet and “spam researcher” Alex Brown:

  3. Just goes to show you can get creative with even the most mundane of things. I always try and add a bit is personality into everything I write. You want your communications to be memorable no matter how formal the occassion. You gotta love Google’s approach.

    1. elkement says:

      True – I really indulge in seeing the absurd, weird and sometimes grand in everyday things. I am also cultivating so-called weed in my garden in purpose and I declare it ornamental plants.
      Re Google and memorable: I am always wondering what reusing that search terms again will do to my “online persona” and “reputation”. Search terms turned into poems will attract more searchers having submitted these terms (most likely not searching for poems). But blogging – and all my proto-blog experiments in the last 15 years – have always been creative experimental endeavors, even the so-called business sites.

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