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Talk Like a Person

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(I was originally going to call this section "Speak in Human Voice" but then I decided to follow my own advice - I mean, really, who talks that way?. "Talk like a person!" I think is closer to the mark.)

When many of us started putting together personal sites, art projects, and other creative or informal objects starting in the 1990s, the air of informality online was palpable, but when business came online a bit later in the decade, many of the first business-oriented websites reproduced the remote, inanimate, almost robotic corporate voice you tend to find in annual reports and catalog copy.

Even there, the more savvy enterprises appreciated the value of communicating to potential customers in a human voice. The corporation has always been a mask that disguises the human nature of the people who do the actual work of the business. Revealing the humanity of the people at the other end of the wire has a softening and welcoming effect.

Sure, there are still times where great formality and even perhaps distance are useful, but in an age where authority emerges from collaboration rather than being handed down from on high, the remote, formal, stylized tone of printed communications is continually in the process of giving way to a more natural, conversational tone.

This is all the more true in the context of social sites. If a website does not communicate from the get-go that it is peopled, and written by, ordinary human beings, how will people ever feel comfortable there? The antiseptic air of a hospital or the bureaucratic formality of the department of motor vehicles is no environment for fostering connections, relationships, or collaboration.

Bear in mind that the writing on your site or in your application is a key part of the user interface. Call it web copy, nomenclature, and labels if you like, but it’s as much a part of the UI as the buttons, windows, and sliders.

So, communicate with your site participants in a human voice. But how? This looks like a job for some patterns:

Further Reading