Error messages shouldn’t be Mastermind games

Do you remember the game Mastermind from childhood? Your opponent would select four pegs in different colors, and you had to guess both the color and the order of the pegs to win the game. As you guessed, the only feedback you would get from your opponent would be how many you had right. You wouldn’t know which ones were right. I feel like this when I’m getting error messages from online sites when I’m trying to enter information. It tells me I got something wrong, but it doesn’t always tell me WHAT. So I keep guessing!

Most sites have ways for you to retrieve your password and/or usernames, but not many places show error messages that help you figure out what you’ve gotten wrong.

Take for example, this error message that appears when I’m trying to log into Amazon:

On this page, I am required to input two pieces of information:

  • email address
  • captcha characters

However, the error message that appears doesn’t tell me which one was inputted wrong.

“We’re sorry. We weren’t able to identify you given the information provided.”

What does that mean? Does it mean that i have inputted the wrong email? Or that I didn’t type in the right characters?

A helpful message would have said one of the following things:

“we’re sorry, that email doesn’t correspond to a user in our system”


“we’re sorry, those were not the right characters, please try again.”

This way, I can try another email address (i have WAY too many, but that’s another issue).


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