Sunday May 13, 2012

Mobile Geolocation Check-in Apps Text Style Notes

My research notes on the language style used by mobile geolocation-based check-in 'n' challenge apps, foursquare, Google Latitude, SCVNGR, and Yelp are available for download. Based on my field usage of the apps, this technical communications research brain dump is for you to make of it what you will and go in peace.

foursquare, Yelp, SCVNGR

Left to right: foursquare, Yelp, and SCVNGR screens

It’s apparent from this little distraction that, with the notable exception of the active voice and references to “you”, most of the remaining styles would fail the checks in operation by enterprise applications QA teams.

For such an informal, casual, or conversational style to ‘work’ for apps users, the context of use (who, what, where, when, with) is critical. This style of language, with a little bit of common sense applied, is acceptable to a range of user profiles in the enterprise world performing mobile tasks in CRM, for example. Enterprise apps users now navigate their world of work with a user experience (UX) influenced by the demands of BYOD, Facebook-driven globalization, Globish, and the consumerization of information technology.

What is listed in my document require some nuance to be acceptable to a wider range of users, as personal appeal, energy and edge leverages users’ motivations and goals while delighting them during use. Some of the more outré messages and cultural references would need changing, sure, but there is nothing in the source that could not be customized or localized. Consider it another form of affective or "emotional" user assistance.

I had the opportunity to write some such text for a check-in and challenge app recently. It’s not easy. What did I learn?


  • Research language style and grammar in context (use the mobile apps yourself in a sort of self-reflecting ethnography similar to the "going native" work done by the Oracle Applications Mobile UX team). My research was done in the Starbucks on the streets and airport terminals of Atlanta, Dublin, Geneva, and London, using Google Nexus S and iPhone devices with multiple user accounts.
  • Design with real text and not lorem ipsum text placeholders. To begin, write something, anything, that reflects the required UX, and revise it after some review and testing. Read Getting Real about this (a thoroughly recommend book all over for web apps UX).
  • When writing text you need to have context, such as a description of the check-in, when it happens, and what happens around it (do you need to congratulate on this achievement and extort to the next one too?, for example), a visual of the check-in badge or challenge details, and so on. Access to design materials, wireframes, prototypes, or beta versions makes writing a lot easier and innovation cycles shorter.
  • Throw your existing style guide out the window. Write a user conversation instead.

Comments welcome.

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Oracle applications user experience (UX) assistance. UX and development outreach of all sorts to the apps community, helping to design and deliver usable apps.

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Ultan Ó Broin. Director, Global Applications User Experience, Oracle Corporation. On Twitter: @ultan

See my other Oracle blog about product globalization too: Not Lost in Translation

Interests: User experience (UX), user centered design, design patterns, tailoring, BYOD, dev relations, language quality, mobile apps, Oracle FMW and ADF, and a lot more.

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