Monday, January 14, 2013

Childish language

In previous posts, I’ve pointed out that companies often allow their programmers’ childish language to be glimpsed by customers. These glimpses can distract, confuse and irritate the customers.

For example, when a user of Google’s Gmail has no messages in his Inbox, he sees this message:

No new mail! See what people are talking about on Google+.

When there are no messages in his Sent Mail box, he sees this message:

No sent messages! Send one now!

When there are no messages on file anywhere in his account, he sees this message:

You don’t have any mail! Our servers are feeling unloved.


These messages contrive excitement: although all three messages are routine, there is at least one exclamation point in each message.

The messages also express a childish anthropomorphism: the “servers are feeling unloved.”

And the messages demonstrate a childish narcissism: they imply that Google thinks the non-existent emotions of its non-sentient servers are somehow more important than the real emotions of irritation and disdain felt by real sentient beings: the customers reading those messages.

Grown-up versions

Here are grown-up, sober versions of the three messages.

There is no new mail.

There are no sent messages.

There is no mail on file anywhere in your account.

The Takeaway: Don’t risk distracting, confusing and irritating your readers – and damaging your credibility – by inserting childish language into routine communications. Google, with its colossal market position, can afford the risk; you and I cannot.

See disclaimer.

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