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I just realised thanks to DavidW that all sites have just lost their custom 404 pages, see here for example:

enter image description here

They're the same across the entire network now, without the fun site customisations. Only chat still has its funny-hat guys.

Is this a new undesign change, or a temporary accident?

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  • 11
    Error 404: Design not found.
    – Spevacus
    Jul 29 at 13:23
  • 5
    This comment suggests the change might be intentional: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/359996/… Jul 29 at 13:48
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    eh, yes, that's what you get when an enterprise matures into a high-profile company - a soleless "branded" design everywhere :( Yes, it seems to be intentional - but I wonder why, once again, we didn't get any announcement posts prior to the change going live. P.S. It would be a truly sad day if (when?) we lose the TNG 404 in chat Jul 29 at 13:55
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    @OlegValter The design was always soleless, this isn't Nike. Jul 29 at 13:58
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    No way this was an accident. It's got all the bits and bobs from the previous error pages, just in a single box. SE.com, though, still has the panda.
    – Ollie
    Jul 29 at 13:59
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    @Randal'Thor Typoed, thanks :) Our precious waffles on MSO are gone too :( Sigh Jul 29 at 14:02
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    @OlegValter No! Do we need a script?
    – Ollie
    Jul 29 at 15:06
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    @Ollie to get waffles back? I think we do :( Jul 29 at 15:19
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    I genuinely believe part of what brings people in is the feeling of there being a community, as well as some humor in places like the 404 screen. Losing more and more of these (front page on SO and now the 404 pages network-wide) kills the perception of there being a living community involved for people who aren't already a part of the site. Really disappointing that this is the direction we're going in now Jul 29 at 15:51
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    I really liked the pencil stroke graphic of the old 404
    – Vickel
    Jul 29 at 15:51
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    @Zoethe1337Princess TBF, there has been a bit more feeling of humanity and community from the company lately, e.g. this. Jul 29 at 15:53
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    I am probably missing some irony in the comment above, but have to say that: actions speak louder than words, and for now, I see yet another step from the company towards having a network of sites that scream corporate, and that does not give me even a tiny bit more feeling of humanity and community... Jul 29 at 16:40
  • @OlegValter I said "feeling" of humanity and community; of course we've yet to see whether company actions will bear out the fine words from Philippe and others. But engaging directly with the community - asking for priority suggestions, doing community-building exercises, and recognising that different sites have different problems - is surely a good step. Jul 29 at 16:53
  • "Enterprised to death" [Citation needed] Jul 29 at 17:46
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    EL&U lost a delightful illustration of Alice in Wonderland peeping through a curtain... 😢
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 30 at 5:41
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Sorry for the delay. Yesterday got away from me.

I've gone ahead and reverted this change for now. It'll go out in the next deploy. I'm going to instead scope these changes to just Stack Overflow. Stack Exchange will still have its mobile view deleted, but will keep the custom images.

We were looking at 404s on the way to killing the mobile views. A few reasons why we want to simplify them:

  1. 404s are meant to be rare. Tonally, we think treating them as jokes can further frustrate already frustrated users.

  2. The Stack Exchange network doesn't have dark mode yet, but will at some point. Those old custom images will need to be updated to have dark mode alternatives. We don't have the resources to do this right now. This spot illustration flips colors, and takes custom colors really well.

  3. Those custom images aren't retina-ready, meaning they're really blurry on newer, high DPI screens.

  4. Those images are also heavier to download than these SVG spot illustrations, though that's not a huge concern because, like I said, these pages are rare.

  5. Some of those images are cease & desists waiting to happen. We don't own the rights to some, nor do we provide attribution. I have no idea how GitHub gets away with the Star Wars® reference, and I used to work there!

I hear y'all on it feeling like a loss of culture 😞. I'd like for our theming to be more expressive in the future, but we need to balance that and things being future-proof.

We can revisit this when we have a better plan for what to do with those 404 images. We'll be touching a lot of stuff on the way to a fully responsive site and we've gotta keep chipping away.

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    Thanks for the response. I'll be honest, this is mostly bad news, but +1 for at least giving people the chance to take pictures before our fun stuff disappears. I hear you about the technical issues (dark mode, not retina-ready, heavier to download), but I have to disagree on your 1st numbered point. So many sites, even those of bigger companies than SE/SO, have funny/cute 404 pages. If it was such a tonal issue, why have so many companies chosen to do it? I'd say it's rather the opposite: if you run into a 404, well, you haven't found the page you wanted, but at least you get a chuckle. Jul 30 at 14:17
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    So, if a community wanted to design their 404 page within some guidelines, similar to how we can submit community ads, would that be an option? There's a lot of creative talent on the network that could probably create clever, properly licensed, dark and light themed pages that captures the character of the site without being too jokey. If a site doesn't want to design something specific, they get the default.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 30 at 14:27
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    That's what we need to plan, @ColleenV.
    – Aaron Shekey StaffMod
    Jul 30 at 14:29
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    I really have to agree with @Randal'Thor here. I hit those 404's at least once a day somewhere on the network. With the age of the network, and the amount of deleted posts there are people are bound to run into a 404 every now and then, when being linked from somewhere outside the network. I think there used to be something like: The post you were looking for is deleted, here are similar posts. That would at least be a better page to serve then a 404 when browsing to a deleted post. If that is done, the real use of 404's would indeed become rare.
    – Luuklag
    Jul 30 at 14:35
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    @Randal'Thor I don't know whether it's possible, but I kinda wonder whether we could take into account the URL of the page someone was trying to get to and serve different text depending on it - so, for example, if someone's followed a URL to a deleted question, maybe we could display something that recognizes "It looks like the question you found was deleted, if you can't find another similar one, consider asking the question yourself" or something... I don't know all of the reasons people end up on 404s but it'd be interesting to get some JIT help there.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Jul 30 at 14:35
  • @Catija, great minds think alike ;)
    – Luuklag
    Jul 30 at 14:37
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    I mean, heck, I wonder if we could even pull the title of the question and a list of the linked questions - so if the question was deleted because it was a downvoted duplicate or something, we could show them questions that might solve their problem. I know that for anon users we generally automatically redirect duplicates to the primary but I don't know whether we do that for deleted duplicates.... hmmm.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Jul 30 at 14:40
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    @Catija That would require extra dev time though, to design more customised 404 pages. I'd be happy if they'd just leave the ones we have, they don't need to put effort into making them better as long as they don't make them worse. (I'm also now getting deja vu because I'm sure I have seen this, a 404 page that provides a list of "maybe you meant this instead" links, but it can't be on SE and I'm blanking on where it's from.) Jul 30 at 14:58
  • +1 for the tonal issue -- I find cutesy/'amusing' 404 pages really irritating -- I don't want to see your sense of humour; I want you to serve the page I asked for. (Especially when the page I asked for was linked from elsewhere in your site. Like, perhaps, a deleted question that I don't have permissions to view -- give me some actionable information, not a cute picture. Jul 30 at 15:06
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    If simplicity of execution and consistency across the network is the name of the game, then at the very least (with a team of developers and designers) come up with a less boring image than the sketch of a hazard sign. P.S Last week's MSE orange theme, that shade was great, super cheerful and knocked my socks off. Loved the SO inspired colour, so much better than a vanilla white 404 page.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 30 at 15:09
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    @Catija "I don't know all of the reasons people end up on 404s" mostly from browsing daily MSO posts about deleted questions :) Jul 30 at 15:53
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    @Catija That's pretty much what we already do. Check out https://stackoverflow.com/questions/194812/list-of-freely-available-programming-books in incognito, for example. :) Having said that, the content of these pages hasn't been revisited in many years (and the un-terminated sentences are bugging me), so there's always room for improvement.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Jul 30 at 16:04
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    Oh, here's a theoretically better example, even though the options don't actually look relevant: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/267546/correct-content-type-http-header-for-json
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Jul 30 at 16:07
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    Site designs are already created for Beta sites. Why aren’t 404 pages simply part of the design? Jul 31 at 10:00
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@OlegValter No! Do we need a script? – Ollie 4 hours ago

Yes, yes we do! Custom 404 pages used to be those tiny easter eggs that brought the feeling that the network is actually run by human beings that know how to have a little fun (like Star Trek: The New Generation 404 page in chat).

I guess we can now deprecate the Waffles meme as well as Jeff's post with the iconic image. It is extremely saddening to see that despite all the assurances, the company keeps taking steps in the direction completely opposite to the words spoken.

"Page not found" error page is as known (if not more) as BSOD, and replacing it with a generic one takes out another bit of creativity from the world. Go to Pixar, enter some gobbly-gook in the path, and be greeted with:

pixar 404 page

Then go to GitHub:

GitHub 404 page

Then to Slack, and get an animated (!) background:

Slack 404 page

Even Amazon welcomes you with puppies:

Amazon 404 page

Overall, I feel that the Stack Exchange network lost something important today, but there is still time to salvage at least some of that. I threw together a small userscript that brings back most of the 404 images (see the full list on Stack Apps).

I will continue to expand the roster (more info on the Stack Apps post) and am open to requests and suggestions for adding more sites and/or images.

Install | Minified

Stack Overflow 404 Meta Stack Overflow 404 Ask Ubuntu 404 Super User 404 English Language Learners 404 Code Review 404 UNIX 404 Sci-Fi 404 Math 404 Server Fault 404 Apple 404 Cross Validated 404 Arqade 404 Mi Yodeya 404
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  • I mean... we do still have a custom 404 page, it's just unique to the entire site, just like github's is unique to theirs
    – Kevin B
    Jul 29 at 20:09
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    @KevinB we do, but that's not my point - we are supposed to be a network, not a single site (as opposed to GitHub, for example), and all of those sites have communities with their own identity. They lost a bit more of that today... On top of that, even GH, now owned by Microsoft, references an iconic scene from SW with their iconic Octocat. The icon we got is just a warning sign drawn by a competent designer - this is what I call lifeless. Jul 29 at 20:18
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    I don't disagree, i'm just being pedantic, :p I don't necessarily agree with every community needing or deserving it's own design, but surely we could at least get something better than this one
    – Kevin B
    Jul 29 at 20:21
  • @KevinB yeah, well, not every had one to begin with :) But there were iconic or at least memorable ones: waffles on MSO, Computer kamasutra on SU, confused search on AskUbuntu, Alice on ELL, etc - and now they are getting replaced with a warning sign... How community-centric of SE - it's not even announced, just dropped Jul 29 at 20:28
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    Also Discord Jul 29 at 20:36
  • @Zoethe1337Princess oh, the page's so cute ^^ Jul 29 at 20:41
  • OK, I'll give it a shot ;) But you might have to wait a bit - they take a while.
    – Ollie
    Jul 29 at 20:44
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    @Ollie 6 to 8 weeks was too long to wait, so I made one already ;) Although the search for communities will certainly take a while Jul 29 at 20:46
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    I always appreciate a custom 404 design. Slack's "There's been a glitch" is very misleading for a 404 error though. Just saying...
    – 41686d6564
    Jul 29 at 21:09
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    @OlegValter 6-8 days, but I'll take that! Thanks!
    – Ollie
    Jul 29 at 22:03
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    Since we’re mentioning some nice 404 pages: here’s a fox in space on Patreon. Jul 30 at 6:00
  • @SebastianSimon nice one, reminds me of my childhood in the 80's playing the MAD Magazine boardgame
    – iLuvLogix
    Jul 30 at 10:04
  • @SebastianSimon I kind of wish the rocket orbiting the moon was playable on the page :) On an off-note, if you wait long enough, the fox floats off-screen Jul 30 at 12:16
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    'Easter egg' 404s are the sort of thing that committed members of the community love and newcomers chuckle at. Once. And then get annoyed by how useless they are. I like a good joke, but not on the tenth time of hearing it. Jul 30 at 15:22

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