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Your vs. My

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Flickr refers to "your stuff" not "my stuff."

Site developers frequently argue about how to label a user’s own customized elements or collected objects to distinguish them from generic site content or objects belonging to other users of the site.

There are two schools of thought on this, which can be called “Your” or “My.” The names of some popular sites hint at this dilemma: MyYahoo, MySpace, YouTube.

Labeling stuff with “My” imitates the point of view of the user. It is as if the user has printed out labels and stuck them to various objects: My Lunch, My Desk, My Red Stapler. Except the user hasn’t done this, you (the site) did it for them.

Labeling stuff with “Your” instead reinforced the conversational dialogue. It is how another human being might address you when talking about your stuff. Even with MySpace, people say things like “I saw what you put on your MySpace.”

Contents

What

The possessive pronoun used to personalize or customize content on a site can reinforce either a social or solipsistic state of mind, depending on whether it’s expressed in the second person or the first.

Use When

Use this pattern when labeling objects belonging to or chosen by the individual user.

How

Use “Your” to label personal objects in social sites.

Open Questions

Open questions Chris Fahey, a founder of the Behavior design firm, cautions that the choice between Your and My may depend on your brand:

“This is, to me, something where a strong creative vision (brand identity, voice, audience relationship with the brand) can wildly trump any theoretical logical or usability goodness. A brand that has a personality that sounds like the product is a person, or speaks on behalf of a group of real people (like Flickr, which even says Hello to you), it makes sense to say ‘Your.’ But for brands that position themselves as an almost cybernetic extension of your personal infospace (like MySpace or Windows), ‘me’ and ‘my’ might actually make sense. In fact, consistency is probably the paramount rule here.”

Another approach that somewhat sidesteps the polarity of your versus my is to use the person’s name. Bill Scott, the lead UI Engineer at Netflix (and a renowned patternista himself) tells me that at Netflix they avoid “Your,” preferring “Bill’s recommendations.” Their rationale is that it communicates the personalization (the same way “your” and “my” are supposed to), and it also clarifies that “it is you and not your kid (when using multiple profiles in a household).” But then again, for most people Netflix may be more of a personal utility than a social environment.

Rationale

Objects labeled “My” on behalf of a user by the system give the feeling of an impersonal, if helpful, robotic valet or assistant, generically identifying items as if by proxy. This mode of nomenclature works just fine for private, individual environments. If a site has the feel of a bathroom cabinet or sock drawer, then calling items My Toothpaste or My Socks suits the solipsistic environment just fine.

However, in a social site, we want to avoid the call of introversion and instead encourage our participants to open themselves up to the possibility of conversation both with their co-denizens of the site and with the site (or rather the people “behind” the site) itself. Hence, we use “Your” to engage the social mind in a dialogue. A human being, even perhaps a live assistant or valet might say “I bought you your favorite toothpaste,” or “Here are your socks.”

Examples

Flickr refers to all of the user's objects as "your".

The canonical example of an "asocial" antipattern is perhaps Yahoo!'s MyYahoo! site, where everything is labeled as "My," the site's name has My in it (MySpace falls prey to the same thinking, by the way), and the site's initials are even MY.

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MyYahoo provides users with a personal, customized experience but one that has not, up to now, been social, and the labeling comports with that.

Further Reading / Sources