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For this week’s Tech Time Warp, we’re talking about the origin story of the 404 Page Not Found error code. This error code is about as frustrating as actually reaching a 404 page. For years, a neat story has circulated that the number “404” was chosen in honor of a room at CERN in Switzerland. Variations of the tale stated that room 404 was home to the World Wide Web’s first servers, or that it was the location of Tim Berners-Lee’s office, or even that Berners-Lee was frequently not found in said office (get it?).

Sadly, though, there was no room 404 at CERN, where the first numbered room on the fourth floor was 410. The myth has perpetuated despite World Wide Web co-developer Robert Cailliau’s best attempts to debunk it in interviews. In 2017, Cailliau told Wired: “The mythology is probably due to the irrationality, denial of evidence, and preference for the fairy tale over reality that is quite common in the human species.”

The truth is rather mundane. Error codes were needed for all sorts of errors, including situations when a web server couldn’t serve up page content. Client errors were arbitrarily assigned codes in the 400s, and the broken link code received the number 404. Over the years, the 404 page has taken on new life as a branding opportunity. In 2016, presidential candidates even got in on the fun, with the John Kasich campaign 404 page featuring cats, the Rand Paul campaign page stating even the NSA couldn’t find the content, and the Hillary Clinton campaign using a GIF of the former Secretary of State struggling with a metro card. Might as well have some fun, right?

Photo: / Shutterstock

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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