Who enjoys TED? You do.

On TED, it’s you, not me

A recent story on Medium, Is this my interface or yours?, reminded me of a debate that raged within our team during the redesign of TED a few years back. Some favored Me / Mine labeling for interface elements, while others argued for You / Your. There were good arguments on both sides, but we ultimately decided to use You / Your labeling.

Everyone agreed that, as much as possible, we should be consistent. No one wanted an experience where we sometimes addressed the user directly (You), and sometimes spoke on their behalf (Me).

We also established early on that the tone of voice for TED should be conversational, personal, even informal. This led some to argue that the Me direction was best; after all, how can you get more personal than first person. My profile. My saved talks. Recommendations for me. On the other hand, that approach didn’t sound very conversational. Me is one-sided.

Others argued that it was the site’s role to serve the user—to make suggestions, offer insights, store saved items. This suggested a TED and you approach. Your profile. Your saved talks. Recommendations for you. The Me crowd said this felt stilted and formal, even old-fashioned.

In the end, however, it was the consistency issue that led the day: much of the content on TED is written for, or presented to, a reader, a person. It only made sense that microcopy should follow suit. A simple example:

“2200+ talks to stir my curiosity” wouldn’t work as well. Another example:

It’s true that “Surprise me” might work just as well as “Let us surprise you.” On the other hand, this approach feels more TED-like: we’re here to help you discover amazing ideas. Direct address allows us to talk with people, not for them.

The You approach is also more flexible: at a certain point, you have to really contort your language (or your thinking) to make the copy consistently first person. This might work for an app or a simple website, but for an editorial site like TED, there are just too many cases where we are speaking to the user, making recommendations, offering ideas, suggesting opportunities.

Finally—and this is just my take—the Me approach risks feeling inauthentic, artificial. I know this is not my website. I know these are not really my talks. This is brought to me by TED. I am a consumer of TED, not TED itself. Don’t pretend to be me. Moreover, when an org speaks with me—politely and in a friendly tone—I feel a connection to the org I might not feel if it tries to act as my proxy.

So, what do you think?

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