I randomly landed onto a page that presented a novel idea, making 404 Page Not Found errors more useful by showing information about missing children. Since I got distracted between opening the page and actually reading it, I had to sit for a while and think of how I got there or if it was a message from above. Once I divined that it was indeed a page that I had opened earlier, I was very intrigued by the concept and thought it was worth finding out more about it.
Philip Tellis, a developer at Yahoo! (amongst other things), wrote up the concept on his blog, the first place I’ve ever heard of this idea even though it’s a great spin-off of the Amber Alerts. In it, he explains how he investigated the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s website for an API and ended up at missingkidsmap.com, a Google Maps mashup of the Missing Children’s data that allowed an XML export of the data. Philip then goes on to share some of the code that he used. Once the data was parsable, the code does an IP look-up to find listings in the visitor’s state. A missing child is then selected from that pooled and displayed on the 404 File Not Found page.
For an example of it, you can see a screenshot below or look at a non-existing page on the BluesMoon site like: http://bluesmoon.info/foobar
The code to implement this on a website is available on Github. It’s also been made into a Drupal module for sites using that CMS. Another developer has taken the idea and modified it to be entirely client-side with some jQuery and AJAX. You can find his write-up of his approach to this as well as an example of it in action on Scott Hanselman’s site.
Personally, I prefer the way only one child was original displayed but the more customization and more people taking hold of an idea like this, the better. I would certainly be interested if this functionality could be wrapped into a WordPress plugin and I imagine a number of other people would as well.
This kind of reminds me of a change Google recently made to their search results. If your query is suicide-related, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is displayed at the top of the results.
Google’s change to search results to show the Suicide Hotline Number for suicide related searches. Just like with the Missing Children information, it might not be what you’re looking for but it might help or prevent something from going missing.