Archive for the ‘Microvoice’ Category

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.



30 Apr 2012

Pinterest, stop voicejacking!

Author: Christopher Johnson | Filed under: Email, Microvoice, Web Apps

I’m excited to be part of the speaker lineup for the Seattle Interactive Conference, taking place November 2-3 at the Conference Center of the Washington State Convention Center. The conference explores “technology, creativity, and emergent trends”, and apparently aims to become a sort of SXSW of the Pacific NW.

I’ll be talking about verbal strategy and verbal creativity in branding, social media content, web content, and UX design. If you’re interested in attending, you can knock $150 off the price is you register using the code SICSPEAKER2011. I hope to meet you there!

6 Oct 2011

Seattle Interactive Conference

Author: Christopher Johnson | Filed under: Copywriting, Events, Microcontent, Microcopy, Microvoice, Speaking, UI copy

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.

5 Aug 2011

Microstyle in UI: A Twitter case study

Author: Christopher Johnson | Filed under: Copywriting, Grammar, Microcontent, Microcopy, Microvoice, UI copy