Stop Blaming Humans

Is it "human error" or bad design when all of Google search is disabled by a single misplaced slash? Human error is what Google has called it.

Link: "This site may harm your computer" on every search result?!?! (Official Google Blog). The comment at the end of the post that they will put in more file checks does indirectly acknowledge that the problem is not just with the user (edit to clarify: I don't mean Google's end-user; I mean the person that edited that blacklist file, who is the user of the internal Google/StopBadware system).

More context: Google Glitch Briefly Disrupts World's Search (NY Times Lede blog).

Some earlier rambling I did about human error: Blaming "Human Error".

Recommended reading from a more sociological (and negative) perspective: User Error by Ellen Rose (publisher's page with more info).

2 thoughts on “Stop Blaming Humans

  1. There are situations where your response would be insightful, but this isn’t one of them. This WAS human error. And the fact that ‘/’ expands to mean all sites isn’t bad design. It’s very useful. But every design choice is like a gun, and with every gun, you can find a way to aim it so that you get yourself in the foot. So what? It’s life. Everyone who has a talent for it learned something interesting today. No doubt their software process now tests to make sure this situation won’t happen again. But if it DOES, that will also be human error, of a different kind.

    (And they didn’t indirectly acknowledge that the problem wasn’t with the user. The entire blog post was about how it the problem wasn’t with the user.)

  2. Ron, thanks for the comment, but I disagree with you. 🙂

    I’m not doubting their story that a person made a technical mistake that caused the error. I’m saying that it’s not solely that person’s fault even if they did make a mistake. A better design could have made this event less likely. Designers and developers need to expect people to make mistakes. While they can’t anticipate every error that will happen, they can design to minimize the damage and make errors easy to recover from. These are basic principles underlying good usability and user-centered design, in my opinion.

    Of course in practice things are never perfect and problems happen. I’m not trying to lay blame on specific designers/developers in this instance either. I’m just saying that calling something “human error” is a cop-out.

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