Category Archives: Website

More 404s


I’d put off going through the 404s (see a previous post) for a couple of days, and to my horror I was greeted by hundreds of errors when I finally got to the 404 folder this morning.

Hundreds! I thought something had seriously gone wrong with our website, but no: some eejit inadvertently entered our domain name when he/she tried to download an entire collection of porn from some German Scheisse-movie site.


So what I though was going to take ma at least an hour or two, turned out to be finished in about ten minutes or so.

Which is good news. Because it means I’m now going to take a stab at implementing the Event Calendar on our site. Not simple by anyone’s standards, what with the site being such an amalgam of technologies and hacks. And I’ve about two and a half hours to do it.



The mind boggles

I wonder sometimes…

what drives someone to enter the same incorrect URL over fifty times in a row?

why would you try two dozen variations of an address that doesn’t exist? like /poeple/name, /people/name, /ppl/name, /peeps/name, peoples/name, name/people/, staaff/people/name, name/staff/people?

if /something/images/name.jpg doesn’t exist, why try /something/images/images/name.jpg? and if that doesn’t exist, why try /something/images/images/images/name.jpg?

why does Google try combinations of URLs that patently don’t exist, have never existed and never will? like /ourdocs/template.asp?pagename=welcome?

how long do pages really stay cached in Google’s cache? we’ve got some that haven’t existed for at least three years in there!


We made an error! You idiot!

…that’s more or less what most websites tell you whenever something goes wrong. Don’t take my word for it, go ahead and try for yourself.

Try to get a page that doesn’t exist on Europa ( and you get this error message:

Not Found
The requested object does not exist on this server. The link you followed is either outdated, inaccurate, or the server has been instructed not to let you have it.

Do the same at the United Nations (

Not Found
The requested URL /english/qsdfqsdfqsfd was not found on this server.

Still, these are relatively benign. If we take a look at institutions a little closer to the College we’re made to feel downright stupid. Try the European Institute of Public Administration ( in Maastricht:

Error 404
Not Found

Terse. To say the least. And scarcely helpful.

Enter an incorrect address at the EUI in Florence ( and you’re hit with

File Not Found
The requested URL /unknown was not found on this server.
There was also some additional information available about the error: [Fri Oct 7 19:51:44 2005] access to /home/stronghold/htdocs/unknown failed for, reason: File does not exist

Quite. Give them credit: they try to be helpful, even if the help isn’t really, erm, actually helpful.

I’ve been around the internet for quite a while and I’ve seen my share of error messages, so I’m pretty much inured to them. But they’re neither friendly nor helpful. And what they’re really saying (or at least implying) is that you, the user, did something wrong. That you are to blame.

Which of course may be the case—I monitor the errors that occur on the website very closely, and you do see people just try anything and everything in quick succession, blindly hoping that if they enter enough strange URLs they’ll hit on that one address they almost-but-not-quite remember.

However more often than not the error lies either with us (for removing something that used to exist or for adding a wrong link to a page) or with other people (for adding out of date or plain wrong links to their pages). And in those cases it’s even more counterproductive to saddle the unsuspecting visitor with a blunt error message.

So, what are we doing about this on the College site? Well, for starters, no technical mumbo-jumbo. No mention of Error 404s or server this and file that. And we try to offer help:

Page not found

You entered or followed a link to the following address:

We’re sorry, but we couldn’t find the page you were looking for.

Click the back button to return where you came from, or alternatively you may find what you were looking for on the College of Europe home page or the College A-Z.

If you are receiving this message and you suspect you shouldn’t have, something else may have gone wrong. Please get in touch with the webmaster—he may be able to help you out.

The wording needs some work, I know, but hey, at least we’re being really apologetic. We’re practically groveling we are.

Ah, I kid, I kid. 🙂

Sill, where the error page really comes into its own is when I know about the address that throws the error—be it a web page, or an image, a PDF file, a Word file, Powerpoint file, etc. Two cases there: either the non-existing address has a one on one replacement, or it hasn’t.

In the first case we never even stop for an error message and shunt the user onwards. So when for some reason the Development Office “home page? has been moved from /dev.htm to /template.asp?pagename=devointro and then to /development, either one of those addresses will forward the user to the correct page, no questions asked.

In the second case we do stop and inform the user of what is going on, as with everything to do with our HR Studies department:

Page not found

You entered or followed a link to the following address:

We’re sorry, but there hasn’t been a Human Resources Studies department at the College of Europe for a quite a few years now. Please see our Study Programmes page for more information on our current academic programmes.

At the moment there are close to four hundred “special treatment? URLs in the database.

I think I’ll only need to stay on top of the errors that are generated every day for a few weeks more, adding them to the database as they occur, to get our errors down from literally hundreds per day to practically nil.

Nifty, no?

Meet the staff

You know you’re working for the right place when…

  • you can put a name to the roles–so you’re not dealing with “the nightwatchman” but with a person
  • you can put a face to the names of the people, so it’s not just a name but you know what the nightwatchman actually looks like
  • the website tells you a nightwatchman is an internationally renowned artist

Good stuff. I think you can tell a lot about the organisation by looking at their who’s who.

From our who’s who you can find real people. With publications, with academic interests, with past job experiences, sure. But also with hobbies, children, side projects, personal information.

Mind you, we’re still feeling our way around this, trying to find the right balance. Of course we won’t publish really personal stuff or potentially damaging stuff (either to us or to the person involved). Who’s going to judge? Erm, well, the webmaster will be the first judge, I guess. And if he’s in doubt the head of the department. And so on, all of the way to the top of the organisation chart.

Are we going to make these personal profiles compulsory? Are we going to force everyone to put a picture on “their” page? No, of course not. That would totally defeat the purpose. This is about free choice too. We may decide to put up a minimal “mandatory” profile (who, what, where, contact), but all the rest is up to the people themselves. Do you want a picture? Fine, I’ll come and take one. If you want. If not, do you have a better picture? Fine, I’ll take it and scan it in. Don’t want a picture? Too bad, but hey, them’s the breaks.

And whatever the gray areas, it’ll be people, not functions. And that makes all the difference.

New website

So… we have a new website.

I’m just a teensy wee bit bushed right now, but I’ll get a What I Did Why And How I Did It And What I Plan On Doing up as soon as I gather my wits.