A lot of web apps do something I don’t like, and I think it needs a name. I’ll call it voicejacking.
Pinterest is where I’ve most recently noticed it, so I’m going to pick on them, even though I like their web app. Or maybe because I like their web app. I want to hold them to high standards.
Voicejacking is the practice of communicating on someone else’s behalf without telling them you’re doing it. It’s commandeering someone’s voice. I wrote against the practice in my book Microstyle, and I want to bring the discussion online.
Here’s what happened on Pinterest: I signed up, and I was given the opportunity to invite other people to do the same. So I invited myself using a different email address. I was given the option of writing a personal message when I sent the invitation, which I declined. However, I did receive a message at my second email address. Here it is:
I set up a Pinterest profile where I can share the things I like and I want you to follow me so you can see it! Once you join Pinterest, you’ll be able to create your own collections and share your taste.
The Name Inspector
The subject line on this message was “Check out my stuff on Pinterest”.
When I sent the invitation, I didn’t know this message would accompany it. If I hadn’t sent the invitation to myself (and I suspect most people don’t send invitations to themselves), I might never have known about the message at all. And yet there it is, speaking in my voice in the first person: Check out my stuff. I set up a Pinterest profile. I want you to follow me. And even signed with my username.
Am I alone in finding this practice distasteful?
I don’t think there’s any bad intention behind it. I would guess the people at Pinterest consider it a convenience for their users because it saves them the time of composing a message. They probably think the use of the first person makes the message more personal, friendly, and natural. They might even assume I would expect them to send a message like this.
But I think it’s bad practice to attribute a message to a person who is unaware of the message and has no ability to control its content or its style.
Let’s not let companies get in the habit of speaking for us.