A few years ago I started a tech blog. I named it little418 after the HTTP 418 response code, which is defined in my favorite april fools Internet standard: RFC2324. When I created this blog I took a slightly different approach.
Sometimes I blog as an outlet, other times I write to inspire my readers. This time, however, I had one simple intention in mind: reduce frustration. Throughout my career as a software developer I have encountered many cryptic error messages. Each time I’ve into one of these non-obvious messages I’ve followed the same troubleshooting algorithm:
- Run the command again to ensure neutrinos were not to blame for the first failure
- Run the command with verbose flags if they are available
- Tinker around with the software hoping to stumble on the solution, usually only for a couple minutes
- Ask the Internet by pasting the error message into my favorite search engine
The last step almost always produces an answer, but often at the expense of great effort. Finding the gem that solves my issue almost always requires sifting through dozens of forum threads and archived email chains. Most of the information that I have to sift through is out of date, and it’s often difficult to determine that fact. When I read a forum archive I must reconstruct the knowledge assumed by people involved in the discussion. This implicit knowledge often includes version numbers and release dates. I do not enjoy this process and I assume no one else does.
To help abate this problem I designed little418 to focus on helping people resolve the roadblock of a cryptic error message as fast as possible. This resulted in a blog with these features:
- Each entry is written so that search engines can easily recall the post based on a search for the cryptic error message. This is usually as simple as making the title of each entry the error message itself.
- Every entry is dated and includes version information where possible.
- A typical entry consists of a problem description and a list of steps to resolve the issue.
Now, each time I wade through a lagoon of geeky conversations to solve a problem, I quickly craft a post that reveals my discovered solution. Has it worked? Well, assuming that at least a small fraction of my visitors found their answer, I’ve saved the human race tens of thousands of frustrated hours to date. This is a good feeling :)