Almost every web design team I’ve ever worked with has had to, at some point, wrestle with the “Me vs. You” question. In this great debate, the winner was You over at YouTube and YouSendIt.com, and many years ago You won at U-Haul. But the winner was Me over at MyYahoo!, and at MySpace, and at countless other personalized “my.foo.com” sites.
This debate between Me and You, or My and Your, comes up whenever we try to name a personalization feature, or when we need a name the part of the site where personalization appears, or whenever we want to communicate directly to the user in a conversational way. How shall we, the designers, address the user when speaking to them this way? Is the user the “other”, an external, second person with respect to the site or the company, or to the site’s designers? Shall I address the user conversationally as “you”?, or should we try to keep the user distant and only use the third person?
Or does this “conversation” between the web site and You feel a little distant, impersonal, maybe even a little phony? I mean, it’s not like Amazon.com is a sentient person who can actually talk to us. You’re reading computer generated text about your books, your account. Maybe some site designers feel as if the site’s voice should be your voice, as if you were talking to yourself. (e.g., “This is my site!)
It seems like You is used for conversational or imperative modes of communication, while My is often used for nomenclature and branding. Frequently-asked-questions are also usually told with My voice (“How do I format my Windows hard Drive?”), while instruction manuals are generally addressed directly to You.
Product designers, copywriters, and information architects will argue about this forever, but we get really agitated when we see Me and You alternating on the same page!
Thank you for being a Beta user for My Times? Wait, whose Times is it? Is it My Times, or is it Your Times?
Of course, the worst is when computers refer to themselves in the first person. Unless the computer is a certified Turing Test-winning AI, I’m not comfortable with a machine acting like a person through the use of human pronouns. Machines should never use the pronoun me to refer to itself.
As far as I am concerned, the only products that should be allowed to refer to themselves in the first person are made by Apple and begin with the lower case letter i.