[🔒 Locked up] 1. Finding the right keywords

If you’ve ever used Dropbox to work on files at the same time as another human, you’ve probably seen those awful words conflicted copy. First, I’d like to make it clear, I did not write these words, I don’t approve of them, and I’ve tried to stamp them out whenever I had the chance.

What these words are trying to signal is that you and someone else were both working on a file at the same time, both your changes synced, and Dropbox wasn’t really sure what to do (it felt conflicted). So it made a copy for each of you. That probably wasn’t the right thing to do, but Dropbox did it, and now you have to deal manually go through and copy stuff from one to the other.

File locking was a project I worked on to prevent this from happening. This feature lets you lock editing for a file when you start working on it. Once it’s locked, anyone who tries to make changes will get a note that it’s locked. They can ask you to unlock it through Dropbox, or just hang out for a bit until you finish up.

Alright, let’s get into the words.

A few decisions first

Through user testing we aligned pretty quickly on a name: File locking. But that name started to break down in the product. When tested it in menus and modals, folks thought of this as more of a security or access feature, which was not right. So after some testing, we landed on Lock editing and Unlock editing as our main actions.

But now we needed to use those words in a bunch of different situations:

  • Tooltips
  • Confirmation messages
  • Errors
  • Notifications
  • Settings
  • Metadata
  • Emails

We also had 4ish surfaces to think about:

  • Mac Finder/Windows Explorer
  • The new Dropbox desktop app
  • The web (dropbox.com)
  • Mobile (Android/iOS)

On top of that, we needed to consider 3 perspectives:

  • The locker — The person doing the locking
  • The collaborator — The person trying to use the file too
  • The admin — Who might need to sort things out if someone locked editing and then left on vacation

So instead of having a hundred little discussions, through a couple working sessions, I aligned with the PM and designer on the ways we would talk about file locking at a high-level. Once we were all good with those decisions, I started to write the copy.

Here’s what those high-level decisions looked like:

WhatHow we talk about itWhy
Lock a fileWhen it’s not locked yet:
Lock editing

Confirmation:
Lock editing for this file?

Confirmation (already locked):
Keep locked
It’s a bit more precise and it also fits well with the other options in the context menu. 
Unlock a fileShort form:
Unlock

Standard:
Unlock editing

Confirmation short:
Unlock file name?

Confirmation long:
Unlock editing for this file?
This is the natural opposite of lock editing. Once you’ve clicked lock editing, it’s clear that this option will undo that.
A file is lockedSuper short [try not to use this]:
Locked

Short:
Editing [was | is] locked [by]

Long:
Editing [is] temporarily locked for [this file | dog names.xlsx]

Short with name:
Locked by Lavender Verbena

Long with name:
Editing locked by Lavender Verbena

Metadata people first:
Lavender Verbena locked editing for this file

Metadata action first:
Locked by Lavender Verbena
A file is unlockedSuper short [possible we don’t need this]:
Unlocked

Short:
Editing unlocked

Long:
Editing is unlocked for [this file | dog names.xlsx]

Short with name:
Unlocked by Lavender Verbena

Metadata people first:
Lavender Verbena unlocked editing for this file

Metadata action first:
Unlocked by Lavender Verbena
Request to unlockImperative short:
Ask to unlock

Imperative long:
Ask [them] to unlock editing

Received:
Plume Dimpledash wants to edit [this file | dog names.xlsx]
Ask to unlock direction based on user testing was the clearest variant.
Referring to a person, do we use name, email, or both?Name only in product, okay to use name and email address in an email.Consistency with other parts of the product. Also with the addition of the request unlock actions, we’re giving folks a way to reach out through Dropbox—so they don’t need the email address.
Help center linksHow locking worksShort and specific. While this feature will officially be called File locking, the action is lock editing. Let’s split the difference and keep this as short as possible.

Now that we had some high-level decisions, I could start writing.

Next: The key flow

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