It’s a Fall/Winter Sunday which means I’m closely monitoring my Fantasy Football teams. I play on both Yahoo and ESPN but in this blog, we’ll concentrate on ESPN.

When clicking on an ESPN Message Board post to view player discussion, I found myself receiving a 404 error. For those unfamiliar, or unwilling to click the wiki link, a 404 response is when content cannot be found on a server. These responses should always be customized so the user gets more information than the default windows error.

Here’s ESPN’s version:

While this error is descriptive and helps the user understand the error, it’s not representative of the conditions. In this case, the content is available every few refreshes which likely means some replication issues on their end. Here’s what my address bar looks like after receiving the 404.

Since I’m an avid Wooter, I find myself hitting the refresh button as soon as I get a response I don’t like, especially when I know the content is there. As you can see from the address bar, my browser’s address bar is now at ESPN’s 404 page. So, if I hit refresh here, I’m simply going to reload their error page.

Let’s consider the problems this presents from a user’s perspective:

1. I want to access valid content.

2. The content is on some servers, but apparently not on others.

3. When I attempt to access it on a server on which it doesn’t exist, I am redirected to ESPN’s error page.

4. I now must hit the back button on my browser and then re-request the page. Hopefully, I didn’t open the page in a new window/tab and close the previous one.

In my opinion, ESPN should be able to anticipate the user behavior that would cause such an error. Obviously the server should send the error when I request illegitimate content, but we already know that it happens if content replication hasn’t occurred yet. In either case, sending me to a 404 page is valid, keeping me at one isn’t! I believe a more user-friendly reaction might be that the user receives the 404 but is then automatically redirected to the page from which he was referred.

Just my two cents.