Software and Other Mysteries

On code and productivity with a dash of unicorn dust.

Your vs. My

I read an interesting post by Dustin Curtis a while back called Yours vs. Mine. It dealt with wording in user interfaces, and the argument he made was that my refers to something that is an extension of myself, whereas your more closely resembles another social being that we can communicate with. In other words, the difference was wheter or not we consider the user interface to be a part of us or simply something we communicate with, and in his opinion (spoiler alert!) “Your stuff” would be the way to go.

As I read the the text, Dustin really won me over. However, as I’ve been working on a side project lately, using your just didn’t feel right. I tried to think about the reason for this, and I believe I came to a conclusion.

I think the basic argument of whether or not the interface is communicating with us as a seperate entity is correct. The problem is that sometimes interfaces do both. In my opinion, using the word my feels like it refers to something I have created, and your refers to something the system provides for me. As an example, consider the website of a news paper. There are two types of users, readers and writers, who each have access to a different interface because their purpose for entering the site is different (consuming and producing, respectively). Now consider the navigation item “My articles”. In which interface would this feel most appropriate? For the consumer it may refer to a page with articles that the system believes I would enjoy (though I agree the title could have been a bit more clear on that), and the producer could perhaps get a list of articles he or she has written.

This is highly unscientific, but my seems to have a stronger sense of ownership than your. If I see “Your messages” on a site, I think of communication and messages other people have sent me, whereas “My messages” more sounds like messages I have written. Put differently, your sounds like something for me to consume and my something I have produced.

This is where it becomes a little bit complicated though, because if the choice of wording is linked to consuming vs. producing, there will often be a need for both words on a site. This would however be an issue all of its own, since I believe most people would find it strange to have “Your messages” next to “My articles”.

A third, and of course valid, option would be to just drop the possessive pronoun altogether, but this could cause the interface to lose some of its personality. In the end, I guess it comes down to simply making a choice and sticking with it, but if anyone has a quantifiable way of deciding, feel free to share in the comments.