Your vs. My

Working Solution · Last modified July 15, 2009

There are two schools of thought on this. The names of some popular sites hint at this dilemma: MyYahoo, MySpace, YouTube.

Labeling stuff with "My" imitates the point of view of the user. It is as if the user has printed out labels and stuck them to various objects: My Lunch, My Desk, My Red Stapler. Except the user hasn't done this; you (the site) did it for them.

Labeling stuff with "Your" instead reinforces the conversational dialogue. It is how another human being might address you when talking about your stuff. Even with MySpace, people say things like "I saw what you put on your MySpace."

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What Problem Does This Solve?

The possessive pronoun used to personalize or customize content on a site can reinforce either a social or solipsistic state of mind, depending on whether it's expressed in the second or first person.

When to Use This Pattern

Use this pattern when labeling objects belonging to or chosen by the individual user.

What's the Solution?

Use "Your" to label personal objects in social sites.

That is, do this if it comports with your brand. As Chris Fahey of Behavior Design put it,

A brand that has a personality that sounds like the product is a person, or speaks on behalf of a group of real people (like Flickr, which even says Hello to you), it makes sense to say "Your." But for brands that position themselves as an almost cybernetic extension of your personal infospace (like MySpace or Windows), "me" and "my" might actually make sense. In fact, consistency is probably the paramount rule here.

Another approach that somewhat sidesteps the polarity of your versus my is to use the person's name, as they do at Netflix, ("Bill's recommendations"). This personalizes while at the same time clarifying that you are looking at your account and not that of another person from your household. This is not necessarily a social approach, however.

Why Use This Pattern?

Objects labeled "My" on behalf of a user by the system can give the feeling of an impersonal, if helpful, robotic valet or assistant, generically identifying items as if by proxy. This mode of nomenclature works just fine for private, individual environments. If a site has the feel of a bathroom cabinet or sock drawer, then calling items My Toothpaste or My Socks suits the solipsistic environment just fine.

However, in a social site, we want to avoid the call of introversion and instead encourage our participants to open themselves up to the possibility of conversation, both with their co-denizens of the site and with the site (or rather the people behind the site) itself.

Hence, we use "Your" to engage the social mind in a dialogue. A human being, even perhaps a live assistant or valet, might say, "I bought you your favorite toothpaste," or "Here are your socks."