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We provide customizable sample data for users of our application. It is basically a text file that takes the form:

ObjectName - human readable name

All our system cares about is the object name, but the friendly name is provided so that users know what the object represents. Over time, though the "human readable name" has become widely inconsistent as far as capitalization, spacing and ordering goes.

To use a contrived example, "Object1" could be "Object One", "object one", "object 1", "Object1", "ObjectOne" and even "First Object".

How important is this to our company's perceived professionalism?

  • If the sample data is meant to represent objects that might be keyed in by users (in a context where precision isn't mission-critical) then having it be all over the place might be fairly realistic, and your users might not even notice that it's a "problem.". – Nate Green Jul 21 '16 at 12:59
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Whenever possible it is best to help guide user (defaults, or suggested naming conventions, etc.) configurable data for consistency.

It will in turn help keep this part of the app looking professional where it merges with your UI structure.

For example let's say you provide the users with the ability to create custom names for certain sets of times a day.

After breakfast
After lunch
After dinner
Before breakfast
Before lunch
Before dinner
Before bed
Three times a day
Twice a day

If you let the users enter it with no restrictions you will very likely get random data values as you've noted.

3 times A day
With dinner
After all meals
BEFORE LUNCH
@bedtime
At breakfast time
Before supper

You still may not be able to control them however you lead them in the right direction to start and hope for the best.

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Hard to say how important it would be for the professional image your company wants to convey... Personally, if I saw sample data which is all over the place, I most likely would not have perceived the software as polished. Well, I might even think: If they cannot get their samples right, what else is wrong with their soft?

But that's my personal opinion. Being a perfectionist, I always say that a software must work good but also look good.

So I would attempt some normalization or periodic cleanups if possible.

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If you are talking about folksonomy, then company is not really responsible for the user-generated content, however, this can and will influence the perceived professionalism of the service provider. Unless the user-generated content is differentiated from the service-provided content visually, i.e., has a visibly different text style. Another option would be automatic normalization of the user-generated content, bringing it to one universal format. By this I mean automatic capitalization, turning numbers into text (or vice versa), and so on.

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Keeping consistency with your sample data is fairly important. It is something your customers see, rather than internal representation. Therefore, they may pass judgement on your professionalism without even knowing they are doing so.

In order to maintain some consistency, you may want to extract these friendly names into a single place (text file, table, etc.) and key them by the object name for quick lookup. If these representations are scattered around, it is likely harder to see how disparate the naming is. However, by centralizing this information, it should be much easier to see any inconsistencies. You also gain the added benefit of a simpler update process to maintain good consistency.

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