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« Welcome to the blogosphere, Sony | Main | Users fight back »

July 25, 2007

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:

Thomas Van Der Wal

Don Norman

Robert Scoble

[I did a followup post based on all the reactions to this one.]

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» Is it time we stopped having from Graham Chastney (oak-grove)
Josh Bernoff writes: 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 [Read More]

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I can't tell if I was influential or just ahead of the market. Regular Net-Savvy Executive readers saw What's your word for people? here last month, when I mused about using words like user and consumer (among others) to describe... [Read More]

» Links for 8/02/07 from Current Wisdom
Here is a collection of interesting blog links for today: I'm sick of users Josh Bernoff discusses on sick he is of the term users in his Forrester blog on social media.  "Yes, I know &q ... [Read More]

» Links for 8/02/07 from Current Wisdom
Here is a collection of interesting blog links for today: I'm sick of users Josh Bernoff discusses how sick he is of the term users in his Forrester blog on social media.  "Yes, I k ... [Read More]


David Brain

Absolutely. Could not agree more. As outdated as the word "consumer", which I hate even more. Top spot.

Jonathan Mendez

I agree. I've been struggling with "user" for some time. Lately I've been trying to use "audience," though it maintains a passive conotation for some people.


There's a [rpblem with this approach.

People who develop applications with sensitivity to their audience's needs will do so regardless of the chosen term. They do this because their experience and insight makes them familiar with the reality behind the word.

Insensitive clods (directors, CEOs, management generally) - whose views admittedly may well be blinkered by the terminology - might have their attitudes reshaped for a month or so. But sooner or later the replacement term will take on exactly the same untrustworthy air that 'user' has.

The Semantics of Technology Consumers

"...Josh’s charge for a shift in semantics for technology users also includes the suggestion to change user-generated media to amateur media. Personally, I think collaborative media has a better ring to it and makes more sense, as some contributors to people-generated communities aren’t amateurs in their field..."


So when we're writing about technology, we're supposed to say, "When your people access your weblog..."?

Customer implies financial relationship.

Friend implies relationship.

One could go with 'reader', but then there's other circumstances, such as software:

"Your (fill in the blank) may not have JavaScript enabled..."

If no money changes hand, customer is inappropriate. If you don't know the person, friend is not appropriate. We should then use, "Your people may not have JavaScript enabled..."?

Our people?

So what are we supposed to use in place of user?


What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

If the team didn't give a crap about the "users" changing the name won't solve the problem.

And this is an internal term that became popular outside of software professionals. Maybe the appliance companies also have such a term but did not catch on.

Your goal is good but this is more for shock/publicity than actual merit in the article.

Josh Bernoff

@DarkCraft: I don't believe CEOs and management are insensitive clods. I do, however, believe that they'll be more sensitive to customers and people than "users."

@The Semantics ... : My term for what used to be called user-generated isn't the best -- I'm up for alternatives.

@Shelley: Readers read blogs. Readers' browsers may not have Javascript enabled -- that's a technology problem, not a people problem. Don't let technology get in the way of calling people people.

@caracarn: Shakespeare not withstanding, words matter. What's the difference between a socialist and a communist, for example? Or a liberal and progressive? Which would you rather be? In writing our book I'm finding that calling people people puts a whole new perspective on things.


Admirable. I wrote a similar rant awhile back, "consumer and user both suck" (http://www.fredshouse.net/archive/000131.html)

It's quite useful to designers to be able to refer to a broadly applicable abstraction like "user", but like all abstractions "user" obscures a lot of important detail about actual humans and their behaviors, desires etc. It also falls short of describing the active role that we play in social, creative media. Unfortunately there aren't any great alternatives. Maybe it will have to be something like "people who use our stuff", although that starts to sound almost politically correct ;-)

Well good luck...

Howard Kaplan


I love that more and more, people are getting on board and keeping it real. I wrote about this earlier this week @ Grokdotcom. Couldn't agree more.

Keep up the great work...

Damon Billian

Having worked in & out of tech, I've found that the term is largely only used within the tech industry. I think some of it has to do with typing user is shorter than customer;-) I often use both terms in conversation (user internally; customer externally).

Tim Harrion

How about terms like readers, members, contributors, visitors, or guests?


sorry josh... kinda agree with shelley on this one.

users isn't pejorative, it's abstacted / neutral.

and where i need to be more specific, i use demographics like "student", "parent", "left-handed geek from albuquerque who likes to play tennis with white shorts & sweats too much".

anyway, i think you & jimmy might be over the top on this one.

my .02,

- dave mc

ps - 'Creating Passionate People' would probably lead Kathy Sierra into a very different business model.


Josh, I also don't like the word "users," simply because it means to give some special meaning to something that is very normal. Everyone "uses" the internet.

But similar to what Shelley and Dave said, what word am I supposed to instead without sounding awkward?


Niall Larkin

Great post. I spend a half hour trying to get the word 'user' out of a recent 4-liner press blurb I was writing about a social media application. And I can tell you man, it was tough. In the end I left it in once. But the process really helped me to trasform all the terms in the rest of the blurb. Making it much more appealing on a human level.


Its very simple.
Because they don't have a threat from some one as a user where as we have threat(computer, internet etc) as users.
I wondered about the title, it is all nothing but just blogging and getting some money.

Chris Russell

Here here!

Hardware and software have become commodities in the same way as dishwashers and utilities (gas, water, electricity); I'm sure much to the aggravation of manufacturers and distributors, who have seen profit margins slip as their products become ubiquitous. The next step needs to be the "disappearance" of technology. You never talk about the "user" of a car's Anti-Lock Brake system...in fact most people don't talk about it at all because it's literally and metaphorically under the bonnet (hood) and only relevant to engineers, just like Javascript etc should be.

Raymond Lesley

Old joke:

Drugs and Computers: the only two industries who refer to their customers as "users".

I have not problem with the term users myself .. but I agree that a more relationship-specific term (customer, reader, etc..) is better where it can be applied.


Well done captain obvious, you've pointed out some semantics. The wording used hardly affects the reality and its plainly obvious that "social media users" are people who are socialising. There's nothing wrong with a specialised lexicon. People connecting with one another socially could be done in a bar or at a club. Using the full phrase "social media users" simply gives more information in fewer words. From those three words we learn not only that people are interacting socially, but that they are doing so over an electronic medium created for that purpose.

Jonny H

Users is short for 'people who use'. It isn't a perjorative term, although I agree it has been stigmatised by crass corporate usage which has de-humanised it. But there is nothing logically wrong with the term itself.

Firstly it provides a unifying shorthand for all 'people who use something'. What could be more inclusive than that? I don't want to have to say 'people who want to get stuff done' instead of 'users'.

Also, RE your example, people who use dishwashers ARE referred to as users by the designers of the dishwashers since it differentiates them from people who don't. This may sound silly, but there are plenty of people who come into contact with a dishwasher who are not users - in most houses there may be kids who don't use the dishwasher - in that case safety features may be required on the dishwasher for these non-users. The very fact that they are non-users is important because it identifies that they can't or don't use something - this affects how a feature is designed.

And just because the US has 80% net penetration it doesn't mean that "All people are users!" There are plenty of people in the 3rd world who don't have computers or net access so we can't just assume they are users because they are people.

So fundamentally I agree that the term users has been abused, but I completely disagree that there is anything intrinsically wrong with the term or any reason to change it or avoid it. What could it possibly be replaced with that wouldn't eventually also be degraded and dehumanised in meaning in the same way?


I don't care if it's pejorative or not, they're all lusers to me.


Steve - UK

You mention that people who buy dishwashers are not known as users, no - lots of people call them consumers, but who consumed a dishwasher recently ? Really really bad word !

Users, they USE computer software, seems like a good word, people should get over it.


I think you're completely wrong about nobody using the word "users" with regard to dishwashers, phones or retail stores. We talk about users with regard to computers because we're in this field. Computers have users. In the dishwasher manufacturing industry or the telephone industry, I can guarantee you they talk about users, user experience, usability, and all the stuff that goes with it. You're not in one of those industries. That's why you're not picking it up. Do you seriously think Apple launched the iPhone without thinking about users?


To be honest it sounds like your not angry at the word "user" your angry at their attitude and the fact that they can now join in the wonderful game of computers without being interupted with "Invalid Command" like the good old days. Internet technology and computers in general are not run by an exclusive little ring of people. It's run by the user for the user. Use the "society", it's just as anonymous, it get the idea of millions of them, and they interact. Then you'll bitter of society.

David Parkes

Yeah its amazing that its only IT Professionals and Drug Dealer who refer to their customers as "users".

Dan B

I tend to agree with dan that it is just a term to refer to a group of people who either use or don't use something.

Within users you may start to define who you are talking about such as employees, general public, managers,customers, readers etc. but you have to define them as users first because on there own it's possible may have no direct contact with the "something" you are talking about and are therefore non-users.

I do refer to people more spcecifically such as "subscribers" and "readers" for blogs and articles and "customers" for ecommerce but this is just because the function is more specific.


Being a frequent user of the word 'users', and understanding the general usefullness of its many and varied uses in different contexts.

I pledge here and now to continue to use it where ever it is appropriate and as often as I like, to convey my message!

Tell me, are the sort of person who objects to the the term 'mankind' to convey in a genderless context, the whole breadth of humanity.

david bova

seems like a pretty strange thing to get annoyed about. the experience of a customer is much more important in terms of computing because theres alot of interaction between the person and the system. you only sit + watch a TV, hold an iron, etc.. not much going on.

the word user is approiate i think because theres much more of an experience to be had with a computing environment. much more interaction.

if youve not got something worth while saying.. you know.. dont say it...

Laura UK

Take software engineering: Users are a subset of ‘people’ or ‘employees’ who will use, for example, a new company application.
Why is Josh offended by the term? What has happened in Josh’s last 20 years to make it unpalatable? What is the alternative? Should I write in my Business Use Case documents “employees trying to get stuff done,” as Josh suggests?



Who cares?!!!! You need to get out more if that's all you have to write about. Write about something more relevant that us users might care about!!!


Amin 'user' 1.


what are you going to put instead "people who use..."? because that really rolls off the tongue doesn't it. users (people who use)of shops are called "shoppers". you cant call people who use computers "computerers" thats just bad english. the term "user" is just that; a term; a title; a name, and like all names it is arbitrary. you could use the term "banana" instead, as long as everyone else knows what you are talking about, it makes sense. stop being so politically correct... "we cant call them users... they may take offence!" get over it!


I think you have too much time on your hands. It's a word and as such it accurately describes. It is not derogatory or offensive. You're the kind of person that made the police force refer to "victims" as "clients", aren't you?

Most software comes with a EULA( End-User License Agreement ). What would you have that be renamed too?

"people connecting with other people license agreement ".

"employees trying to get stuff done license agreement".

I'm not saying your point doesn't have any merit. I just think you're taking it to seriously. There are far worse words being used on the inet to describe the computer using masses. Just hop on to any programming forum. My personal favourite is "the moronic masses". I think people would prefer "user".

Gareth Eckley

I use the term user when writing call logs because:

a) It's quick

b) I'm not allowed to say "self-centred dick who is projecting their shame at being retarded onto me" in my call logs.

But, hit the nail on the head there. The problem with the IT industry is clearly etymological.

It has nothing to do with bad management by non-technical pointy haired bosses, increasingly lower standards of competence in IT and the tendancy of management to go on courses about frameworks rather than fulfill any meaningful part of their job role.

Most of all, it has nothing to do with a culture of customer service that is driving every last person with any self-respect out of support.

How this got a link out of the BBC website I do not know.


Josh, you're so wrong I can hardly believe you're living on this planet.

"The more I write and read about social media"

Ah, well, there's your problem. These terms weren't created by social media because the media don't have a vested interest in clarity of thinking. Developers do. They have to visualise and describe the problem. Words matter. Use the wrong term and no-one will know what you are talking about.

"All people are users now!"
"Users put up with computers. People just do stuff."

People put up with rubbish public transport, with unrepresentative government, with tedious airport security... I could go on forever.

And people frequently change roles. I could a retailer one minute and a customer the next. I might even be a consumer.

"Nobody talks about users of dishwashers, or users of retail stores, or users of telephones."

Really? What do we call them then?
I'll tell you. We call them users, when they're users, customers when they're customers, shoppers or window shoppers as appropriate.
Call a spade, a spade. If you're a user, you're a user. Period.

Take your head out of your backside. Your PC attitude doesn't impress.

The term "user" refers to a person who uses an object. It's non-specific.
If some media bod misuses the term, that's ok. It's not important.
It only matters what developers think about users because they're the ones building the software!

George Weller

Sick of users? UGH! As a developer, this type of flashy, new-wave, marketing/media-type bullsh*t makes me sick!

I simply do not know how some people have the audacity to talk about this technology as if they actually understand it. All of this "web 2.0" nonsense is built on a bedrock of proper technology, built by proper developers who know what they are talking about.

The systems, servers, languages, and applications that ALL of this are based on have been steadily built up over a period of decades by countless people whose silent contribution rarely gets a mention. Then the marketing men come along with their 'cool' flash-in-the-pan ideas, polish the top layer, and proclaim to the world that they are part of something wonderful! ARGH!

The word user as a technical term is immutable. Its is not something that can be polished or spun.

Chris Simon

I think you're missing the point of the word "user". It's a concise word with a precise meaning. It implies the relationship or role of the person involved - in context with the product.

If I design a web site for someone, then it's being provided for the company's "customers". Or "friends" - if it's a personal web site with photos from parties. Or "tax payers" if it's a government information site. This is from the point of view of the relationship between the body that commissions the site and the people who its intended target is.

When I'm designing a web site, I design it for "users". I don't talk about what happens if a "tax payer" presses the Submit button without filling in the boxes. Nor about whether a "friend" would prefer black text on a white background or vice versa. I talk in general terms about "users", i.e. people who will be using the web site.

What happens if there is a news report about the nuisance of spam - what word should the report use to mean the person who owns a computer and uses (damn, I was trying to avoid that word) an email program? "Customer"? "Victim"? "Comsumer"? "Person who went into PC World and bought a computer"? No, "user" is a precise and apt description.

How do you know manufacturers and designers of products like dishwashers and phones don't refer to the people who use them as "users"? The reason you don't use that term yourself to describe those people is that you don't have that manufacturer/end-user relationship with them. And how exactly would you refer generally to people who own a dishwasher? Just that probably - "people who own and use a dishwasher". Bit of a mouthful isn't it?

Max Kalehoff

Aren't "users" people who abuse drugs, or at least enjoy them for recreation?

Phil Spencer

What a crock - I use the washing machine, therefore I am a user. If you have to change the label you give something in order to think differently about it then it shows a serious lack of creative / imaginative thought. I can't believe I've wasted 5 mins reading this, or indeed 30 seconds replying.

Bruce Landwaster

This sounds like some drivel spewed by someone who will be put on the "B Ark" and told a giant space goat is going to eat the planet.

user is short and androgynous. I can only imagine the awkward bloat of manuals were people to try to move away from this term. What kinda New Speak will the Politically Correct nut jobs try to replace user with...

If you have sensitivities about being called a user your parents failed you and you should seek help as this is an indication of other deep rooted issues. I'm also sure the term has been applied to you in a deservingly derogatory manner.


It's an evolved term. Typist -> Inputter -> User -> ? What do you suggest is the next step? See when you think about it it depends on what you are "using" ;-)


A user is someone who uses something. A customer is someone who does not necessarily use but purchases something.


what a total non-issue.


"Nobody talks about users of dishwashers, or users of retail stores, or users of telephones."

Yes they do.

What a whiny blog. My pledge is to try and not come back here :)


Rubbish - Washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves all come with User Manuals.


The parties that sell said products or services are, heretofore, referred to as "the useors."

The parties who partake of said products or services are, heretofore, referred to as "the usees."

There. That was easy.

Peter Hale

I can see the sense of your article. From a business point of view people is a better term than users. From a technological point of view we are still quite a long way from people being able to do all the tasks they might want using computers. To do so they need to get into the area of programming in general rather than specific tasks such as web use, uploading videos, blog creation. This is a much larger and more general aim, hence my PhD title is User Driven Programming. Perhaps future researchers will be able to call this Person Driven Programming as the technology for this becomes easier to use.

Mark Jackson

A person who uses something is still a "user". The term is general out of convenience to refer to people who will "use" the software. It's not specific for the purpose of not wanting to pigeon hole "the people" using the wares.

For example "people" don't belong to anybody other than themselves so referring to your users as "your people" doesn't work well from a personal perspective. We aren't yours to own, but we are your users, as we are using your product [aka: site].

The Judge

"When I started in the business twenty-mumble years ago, writing software manuals"

Ahhh - a frustrated would be coder...

Old School

Just goes to show the profound impact the movie "Tron" had on the computer culture. :)

Daniel Fountain

Absolutely rubbish - user is perfectly adequate.

Perhaps what needs changing is yours (any many other peoples) perception of what the word "user" is implying.

Remember all it truely means is Anyone who uses the system - it is a generic, as this person could be anyone. They could be a customer, consumer, friend, employee, employer - or all of the above.

I think i understand the concept that your saying, but i really think its being looked at from the wrong way!

Use this

So you propose to replace a perfectly functional word with a selection of abstract terms?

John Payne

hmm no I won't be taking the pledge. If your planning on changing an age old, tried and tested, perfectly accepted term for people with no clue as to the inner workings of something (and in most cases, barely any understanding of how to use it, otherwise they become 'operators' or 'power users'), then please be sure to include the following terms: 'employee error' and 'customer friendly'. Now your just splitting hairs.

Paul C

I cannot believe this has been given so much "air-time"....

I USE my dishwasher for washing dishes.
I USE retail stores for purchasing goods.
I USE my telephone for making calls.
I USE my car for driving,
and I USE my computer, browser, and software for whatever I need to do with my computer, browser, and software.

A person who makes use of something is called a USER. It is generic term that fits all situations.

Get over it!

Colin Campbell

They are users. Long may it stay that way. Think up as many "Web 2.0" words to describe them as you care to, but they're users - pure and (more often than not) simple.

Sysadmins know this, yea verily.

Gordon Jones

This article is proof that the fussbudgets of the world have found a home in the PC Politically Correct) movement. Such a fussbudget imagines that someone will be offended about something that they themselves have little or no practical knowledge of (I think this is a prerequisite). They then seek to impose their sensibilities on everyone else. Label me PIAPOI (Politically Incorrect And Proud Of It).


I don't get this article, I think a big fuss is being made about a non issue. The word "user" is short and to the point; it is unencumbered by age or gender and covers a huge range of possible activity from... the end users. If I need to make a reference to every person on a web site, it's very hard to do so with more personal words, as there are many ways a site can be of service. On any given day, you could have "readers", "visitors", "contributors", "reviewers", "sellers"... If you speak to or about a particular demographic of your site, it makes sense to use more personal terms, but to the contrary and especially within the framework of a conversation between Web professionals, I don't see anything wrong with the word "users".

Paul Hooper

In the days of the Falklands problems the Brit troops generally referred to the Islanders as "Bennys" after Benny in Crossroads. Realising this term was a little derogatory the order went out not to use it. Henceforth Islanders were known as "stills". Where did that come from you may wonder...how about "still Bennys"


A definite non-issue. A user is what a person becomes when they sit in front of a computer and their brain ceases to operate. Contrast sysadmin, the person who has to take on the cognitive functions of the users of the systems they administer.


"User" is simply the most appropriate English word, and there are many related words that would be difficult to do without, such as use, using, usage, useful, user-friendly, usable.

These terms are accurate, meaningful and descriptive, and your suggestion would actually remove important nuances from the English language. If we mean people we can say people. If we mean customer or consumer, that's the term we use. Neither is a synonym for user.

The term"user" is also widely used in a range of areas, including law and public services, and - as may others have pointed out – in product design. It is not exclusive to computing (or drugs).


What we should call them is 'suckers'

Filiberto Selvas

Funny; I just wrote a post and use the word… as it is stated above, and I am certain was in your mind as you wrote the post. It is not about the word, it is about the intention. I believe those that do it with empathy, respect, and if possible a little bit of admiration (my are small business owners, I admire them) are OK using the word; those that do not.. doesn’t matter what they call them.


So how about Luser?

In Internet slang, a luser (sometimes expanded to local user; also luzer or luzzer) is a painfully annoying, stupid, or irritating computer user.[1] It is a portmanteau of "loser" and "user" and is usually pronounced as "loser".[2] The word luser is often synonymous with lamer. In hackish, the word luser takes on a broader meaning, referring to any normal user (in other words not a guru), especially one who is also a loser. This term can also signify the user as a layman, as opposed to power user or administrator; for example, end luser. This term is very popular with technical support staff who have to deal with lusers as part of their job, often metaphorically employing a LART (Luser Attitude Readjustment Tool, or "clue-by-four").

The Jargon File states that word was coined around 1975 at MIT. Under ITS, when a user first walked up to a terminal at MIT and typed control-Z to get the computer's attention, it printed out some status information, including how many people were already using the computer; it might print "14 users", for example. Someone thought it would be a great joke to patch the system to print "14 losers" instead. There ensued a great controversy, as some of the users didn't particularly want to be called losers to their faces every time they used the computer. For a while several hackers struggled covertly, each changing the message behind the backs of the others; any time a user logged into the computer it was even money whether it would say "users" or "losers". Finally, someone tried the compromise "lusers", and it stuck. Later one of the ITS machines supported "luser" as a request-for-help command. ITS ceased to be used mid-1990, except as a museum piece; the usage lives on, however, and the term "luser" is often seen in program comments and on Usenet. /lusers is also a common IRC command to get the number of users connected to a server or network.[3]

So, have a good day lusers ;-)

Penguin Pete

Right on! We're going to bring political correctness to software development now, to solve this imaginary problem. Because everybody knows that calling fat people "horizontally challenged" makes their risk of heart attack and diabetes disappear, calling black people "members of the African-American community" and reading to them out of an ebonics phrase-book magically makes all racial barriers vanish, etc.

OK, but while we're at it, we should stop oppressing these devices by calling them "computers". It's demeaning. From now on, they are "members of the electronic microchip enabled community".

By the way, I am not a commenter, I'm a "person voluntarily contributing to the discussion".


Ben Homer

The difference is: in new media technology as opposed to appliances, there is a constantly evolving relationship with the product. Digital media needs to serve the changing needs of constituents to stay relevant. A dishwasher doesn't have this problem.

Sure people are participating in media, but that doesn't change the fact that they're users of the interfaces that facilitate this democratization. And to call the participants anything other than users is doing a disservice.

Users works well because that is what people are until a service is no longer useful to them. A person may then create a new service which has users of it's own. It's possible to be both a user and a creator, but why take the focus off the utility of a service to its constituents?

Even if everyone is a creator they are doing so for users.


Josh - Coming from a marketing and research background I never got why the technology world called their customers "users." It always seemed odd and rather demeaning to me. As we move towards "conversational marketing" that is built on inclusivity the word "community" seems appropriate.


I agree with the commentators who stated that “user” is a well-understood term, not intentionally pejorative, and is, in fact, hard to replace without awkwardness or lack of precision. My one objection regards the use of the term when referring to usability testing. Often referred to as “user testing,” here the term—perhaps unintentionally, but surely—puts the focus of evaluation on the participant and not the system. I even prefer taking the term “testing” out of the equation, instead calling the process “usability assessment.” I’ve dealt with too many participants suffering performance anxiety and brightly uttered the set piece that “we’re evaluating the system, not you” far too many times. Of course, I’m not advocating that we keep the user out of the assessment, but instead focus on the point of the activity. This is probably the one scenario where people are directly and personally exposed to the term “user,” which is almost exclusively used internally in design and development teams. Although we’re all users, we are so in the third person only.


in my world (telcos) we use "customer"

Jeremy C. Lundberg, MSSW

Great article, Josh. It is funny. I think of the term "users" as a derogatory remark of sorts to describe the people you work for. However, at my firm, I cannot get my software development to part with the term....they love it! Thanks, Jeremy


A lot of comments about how the word user is not applicable in today's society but little in the way of suggestions for an alternative. If all of the people who are commenting put their collective wisdom to this project I'm sure the tech writers would gladly start using the alternative.

Mike Borozdin

While this terms is pretty general, everyone understand what it means. If this term is used by a web designer, then it certainly means the readers of his web sites, if it's used by a desktop software developer it means the users of his applications.

I don't think that this term dehuminizes people who use your products. It's not a matter of term unless you call them idiots. It's a matter of respect and hard work that is aimed to deliver the best product that suits your users/visotors/customers/friends.

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