I'm sick of users
by Josh Bernoff
The more I write and read about social media, the more frustrated I get with the term "users."
When I started in the business twenty-mumble years ago, writing software manuals, people who used software were unusual (and had to be masochists). We spent a lot of time talking about users. The word user was helpful -- it helped us to keep in mind that there was a poor slob on the other end of what we were building.
Those times are long gone. We know users are important now. Disappoint them and you lose. So why do we still have to call them "users," which puts the emphasis on the technology they are using?
Yes, I know "users are people, too." But you know what? All people are users now! (With nearly 80% Net penetration in the US this is pretty close to true.) Users put up with computers. People just do stuff.
Nobody talks about users of dishwashers, or users of retail stores, or users of telephones. So why are we talking about "users" of computers, browsers, and software?
Try, just for a day, to stop using this word. You'll be amazed at how differently you think about the world.
Web users become people looking for information.
Application users become employees trying to get stuff done.
Users of your Web site become customers. (Forrester's group focused on usability of Web sites and other technologies is called the Customer Experience team. I like that.)
User-generated media becomes amateur media.
And most importantly, social media users become people connecting with other people. Once you think about it that way it becomes a lot easier to understand. And it focuses you on the relationships, which will always be around, not the technologies, which are always changing.
It's amazing (to me) the clarity this brings to writing, and to thinking. Words matter.
Jimmy Guterman took the pledge to stop talking about users at O'Reilly. Way to go, Jimmy.
So now you take the pledge. Right here in the comments section of this blog. Or on your own blog and link to this.
I promise to avoid the word user whenever possible.
I will think of people who use technology as people, customers, and friends. I won't use them, and they won't use me.
Postscript: more posts that I agree with on this topic:
[I did a followup post based on all the reactions to this one.]