Organizing User Leagal Agreements—Microsoft's New Terms of Service

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On the 27th of August, 2012, Microsoft released its new terms of service agreement. What's interesting about this agreement is that much of it is organized in a question and answer format.

Part of the challenge of user agreements is that people don't read them. They are often organized like a legal document and filled with confusing legal language that doesn't make sense to common users—assuming they took they time to read all 56 pages of the iTunes legal agreement and didn't just click accept. However, it is becoming increasingly important for companies to have their users understand the legal agreements between them.

Microsoft is hardly the first to try to make its terms of service agreement more user friendly. Recent years have seen a few notable companies try to revamp their user agreements. Google created a single privacy policy and terms of service agreement across a wide variety of its services (YouTube, Blogger, etc.) and tried to communicate and organize it in new ways. With their new privacy policy, they aimed to be transparent and communicative. Importantly, chose to organize the information not in a legal document sort of manner, but in a topical, bullet pointed, graphical manner, with simpler language and links to more resources.

Microsoft's attempt isn't as radical, but it is certainly an improvement. The question and answer format of this new Microsoft User agreement certainly makes it more readable. People can scan through the questions to find information that concerns them.

User legal agreements are different from normal legal documents (mainly because they are not read by lawyers). In order to better communicate the central concepts it makes sense to break away from a traditional leagal document organization and side with organizing the legal information in a way that makes sense for the average user.