Sie or Du for German Websites
Thread poster: ull (X)

ull (X)
United States
Local time: 19:06
Sep 20, 2011

Here is an article on how companies address their customers on their websites.

It seems that the old rule of thumb (unless the person is family or a personal friend, the formal approach has to be used) is outdated. More and more often while browsing the web, I come across websites addressing their users in the casual way.  Therefore, I was wondering if this a trend and if there are certain industries that address their target audiences only in a casual way as opposed to the more traditional formal. I spent some time browsing and collecting information on how online companies, news sites, gaming sites, social networks and operating system websites address their customers, users and readers. I put them in two groups and sampled a few for each.

1. Newspapers, IT-Websites and Online Stores

• For the Newspaper category I chose three major newspapers online: Spiegel, N-TV and Zeit. All three used the formal way of addressing their readers. Since this is journalism and those are respected news sites, this approach is expected.

• For the IT-website category I chose five examples:,,, and All five examples used the formal way of addressing their readers. Even though these websites are independent, techie and insider based, they all shared the same language choice.

• For the category online store I chose and, both companies address their customers and users in the formal way. Since this is a classic buyer-seller situation, the formal way is expected.

2. Operating System Websites, Online Gaming Stores and Social Networks

• For the operating system websites I went for the three big ones: Linux, Apple and Microsoft. Linux uses the formal way to address their customers and users. Apple and Microsoft however, seem to have an inconsistency issue. I found both, the formal and the casual approach on their websites. As a translator I think this mix is a big NO-NO, but then I doubt this was a mistake. Are they addressing two different target groups on the same interface? 

• In the gaming category I checked out Nintendo (Wii and DS), Xbox (Microsoft) and Playstation (Sony). Nintendo addresses their customers in the formal way. Microsoft and Sony on the other hand, address their customers and users in the casual way. Generally, this category is for the younger crowd, but gaming is not explicitly for minors. Also, there is a business relationship between the company and the gamer. I am not referring to the language in the games themselves, only to the company's website.

• For the Social Networks category I chose Facebook, Twitter and Google. Facebook and Twitter address their users in the casual way. Even though, Twitter and Facebook are also widely used by companies for business purposes. Since, this category is all about networking, making new and keeping old friends, this approach by Facebook and Twitter makes sense. Google however, addresses their users in the formal way. I was especially curious about them, but since Google's entire web-empire is formal, so is G+ as well.
Generally, we might be slowly heading into a new direction, towards the casual approach with companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Twitter and Facebook leading the way. Those companies are the market leading drives and they are leaving an impression on the new generation.

Any thoughts on this?

Full Article with pics here.


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