UI copy, or microcopy, as some people call it, should help users do things with confidence.
Here’s a case of microcopy that doesn’t work for me. Whenever I sign up for a service on the web that wants to access my Twitter login credentials, I see a message like this one:
When I get to this message, I always press “Cancel.” I stop signing up. I can’t get past the first set of bullet points, the ones under “This application will be able to:”. The first bullet point is fine; I assume the application will be able to “read” my tweets. The next three make me panic, though:
- See who you follow, and follow new people.
- Update your profile.
- Post tweets for you.
This microcopy achieves great brevity by personifying the application. That in itself isn’t a problem–we discuss software in human terms all the time. We think and talk about it as if it had intelligence and performed cognitive tasks. It’s a metaphor that’s useful and usually harmless. But in this case it obscures the issue of who’s in charge.
The problem with these bullet points is that they assign all the agency to the application, making it the subject of see, follow, update and post. They give me the impression that the application will be able to make decisions for me and speak on my behalf, putting words in my mouth. You know those messages you see on Twitter sometimes, like “I just signed up for ______!”, that are boilerplate copy not even written by the person they’re attributed to? That’s what I’m talking about. I hate that stuff.
When you use text-based social media like Twitter, your writing voice, your microvoice, is all you have. Do you want someone else taking control of it? I don’t.
It would be easy enough to fix this:
- Access your followers so you can follow new people.
- Access your profile so you can update it.
- Post your tweets for you.
These small changes in wording make the copy longer, but not so long that it’s a problem. And they would reassure me. They make it clear that decisions about who to follow, how to update my profile, and what to tweet will be made by me. So I think they’re worth the extra words.
Short is good, but shorter isn’t always better.