When a web page goes missing, it is said to be "not found" and the afflicted web site often reports the infamous HTTP 404 Error.

With embedded media, the user is not navigating away to another web server. Rather, the content from another server is embedded directly into the page. For images this is known as hotlinking. For documents (e.g., PDF or HTML), video, and audio there does not seem to be a single term; sometimes inline linking is used.

What is a good term or phrase to use for a non-technical audience when inline/embedded media on a page cannot be presented to the user (for any reason)? For example, the term should apply equally well to the following scenarios:

  • A YouTube video that has restrictions applied (such as age or country).
  • A video that has web page embedding disabled.
  • An image was deleted from the server (local or remote).
  • A hotlinked image that has been replaced with a generic "no hotlinking" image.
  • An invalid URL was used for the embedded content (i.e., a broken link).
  • A PDF document within an inline frame that is empty, unavailable, corrupt, etc.
  • An audio file cannot be played.
  • Server for referenced media is unavailable (offline, no DNS resolution, etc.).

For example, this could be expressed verbosely as:

The web page contains embedded media that is no longer available.

From the comments, one possibility is to express the situation as:

The web page contains a dead link.

  • I think the common term "dead link" still applies here; there is both a logical (conceptual) and technical (HTML) link which connects the container to the embedded media, and that link is dead.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 19:29
  • Most of the scenarios you mention aren’t really media that’s missing at all; they’re not equivalent to an HTTP 404 error (which a video, PDF document, or image would also throw), since the media is still there, just not displayable in the manner intended. Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 19:38

5 Answers 5


In the Web development world, these are known as "missing assets". Not sure if that's too technical for your audience.

  • This nicely avoids display or play terminology. Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 23:55
  • But the asset might not be missing. It might be present, but corrupted, or in an unsupported format, or any of the misc error conditions the question asks for. Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 2:18

For non-technical users, don't get into any details. Just say that the media could not be played (or displayed, for static media such as photos).

  • Not so sure I like this. There's a difference between the resource not being found and the data stream not being interpretable. If the distinction is known, that information would be potentially useful to the user. Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 22:03
  • @MarcRochkind In many, many cases the user has no recourse possible for most errors that occur. Naturally, if there IS something the user can do about it, you should give them the relevant details. But otherwise, why bother? They can't do anything about it and don't understand why it's broken anyway. Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 2:17
  • Not so. Many times users show the screen to their spouse, teenage child, dinner guest, etc., etc., and the phrasing can really help. It's possible to be specific without overwhelming the user with technical mumbo jumbo. That's what skilled UI designers do every day. Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 3:51
  • The phrasing helps... what? As I said in my previous comment, if there is an action the user can take, provide details. Otherwise, what precisely does it matter if there is nothing the user can do? Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 13:02
  • Generally, it's unknowable when a site is programmed what action a user can take, or anyone can take. Solving this sort of problem starts with accumulating as much knowledge about what's wrong as possible. Perhaps the information would be of use to a tech support person who works on the web site. Who knows? The point is, if information about an error is known by the programmer, that information should be made available to anyone who might be engaged in solving potential problems. Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 20:17

Seems more like a stackoverflow question here, but Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 is right, for non-technical audience you should just say something like "Unable to display the content at this time, please click on this link for more details", and put the details for more techy people in a separate page linked from the main one.

  • Fair enough, maybe "load" is a better word, but that will be decisive, since if the link is broken, e.g., there is nothing to load.
    – Arsen Y.M.
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 0:15

I'm a big fan of "data-rust." Even though I've only ever heard it colloquially in tech-nerd circles, I suspect it's easily enough adopted.

  • I've never heard "data rust", but certainly the equivalent "bit rot" is common 'round these parts.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 19:38

The general term for this, not specific to media files, is broken link.

But I agree completely with @Mr. Shiny's answer. Don't talk implementation to users; just tell them that this is not available now.

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