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First or second person perspective in software apps?

What's the best way to go on a web site (or other software  app)? Should a link or button say, "Add to my favorites" (first person) or "Add to your favorites" (second person)?

Does this stuff matter?  Which is easier to understand?  It seems like I am forced to go into the second person sometimes in my apps to explain things.  For example, "You must enter a valid username."  or "Tip: if you don't want to buy this item immediately, put it on your wish list." Does that mean I have to stay in the second person all the time?

Can you flip back and forth across different pages? 

And don't tell me to use the passive voice, like "A username must be entered." or ""Tip: if this item is desired but not to be purchased immediately, it can be put on the wish list."  The passive voice is too distant. 

Or maybe I'm assuming too much chattiness.  A lot of successful apps like Yahoo Mail don't use I, mine, you or your.  Yahoo Mail's folders aren't called "My folders" or "Your folders", just "Folders". 

What do you folks think?
Ethan Herdrick
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
I *despise* the word "favorites."  Woodworking URLs might be favorites, at least some of them.  URLs related to a project at work are DEFINATELY NOT MY FAVORITES!!!!!  ARGHHH!!!

There.  It's over.

Mark Jerde Send private email
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Please don't use My, Your, etc.

Try these variations:

Please enter a username.

Put items to be purchased later on the wish list.
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Depends on the web site - the impersonal "please enter a username" is perhaps appropriate for business sites - but if you're designing an entertainment site, or a lifestyle site, you want to be a bit more personal - to give the site personality - in that case "your" is probably better.
Andrew Cherry Send private email
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Even in business applications, the second person is something appropriate.  I've been working on a proprietary software product which asks the user for a bunch of personal information in a long interview (think TurboTax).  In this case, since we're directly interacting with a particular individual, we always use the second person tense.

Which of these sounds clearer: "Did you attend another college?" or "Are there any additional colleges which should be disclosed?"
Ryan Send private email
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Yes, I agree that using first or second person pronouns makes the site a lot more friendly.  And I think it allows for greater directness of language, allowing you to use fewer words, which is important for usability. 

What do you guys think about the consistency issue?
Ethan Herdrick
Thursday, February 10, 2005
What do you mean by "the consistency issue"? If you mean, should you choose a customer->site dialogue style and stick with it through all contiguous areas of a system, then yes absolutely. Consistency is the key to usability. But maybe you meant something else?
Andrew Cherry Send private email
Thursday, February 10, 2005
There is a conceptual difference between your examples. "You must enter a username" is the computer 'speaking' to you, whereas "Add to my favorites" is you telling the computer to do something. In situations where it's you 'talking' I think it's reasonable to use 'my etc.'
Thursday, February 10, 2005
What Andy said.  You're talking two different contexts.  When the computer (or web site) is telling 'you' how 'it' works, it should be 'you', as in your examples.  "You can add this option to your option list."

When 'you', having learned that, are telling the 'computer' what to do, then the imperative 'Do this for me' makes sense.  "Add this option to my option list."

Personally, I like 'Please' in there -- so "Please add this option to my option list."  And the computer should be polite, also, so "Sorry, I can't add that to your option list" would be a possible error message from the computer.
Thursday, February 10, 2005
The "please enter a username" style is ambiguous. Whose username? Maybe it's an admin form?

On sign-up forms, I like "choose your username:", if the user is to create a new one.
Calamity Jane
Thursday, February 10, 2005
I find the 'My Computer' type stuff very weenie.
NetFreak Send private email
Thursday, February 10, 2005
Great feedback everyone, thanks.  It looks like slight majority feel that a given site should sometimes use the first person and at other times use the second person, depending on context.  "Andrew Cherry" and "DJ" are the main dissenters. 

Hmm... it looks like Amazon is on board with the mixed solution.  On their front page you have "Your Account", "You can qualify for a $10 to $50 rebate..." and others, and "Where's My Stuff".  In fact, that last one is part of a list that mixes first and second person:

Where's My Stuff?
• Track your recent orders.
• View or change your orders in Your Account.
• See our animated demo!

OK, I think I am going to go with the mixed style.  Thanks again for the help!
Ethan Herdrick
Friday, February 11, 2005

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