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« I'm sick of users | Main | Observations from the "user" debate »

July 26, 2007

Users fight back

by Josh Bernoff

Thanks to posts by Steve Rubel (along with a tweet) and the BBC, my musings about the word "user" have generated a huge surge in traffic and opinions here at the Groundswell.

The blogosphere's response has been overwhelming positive -- look here and here, for example. This is thoughtful. My favorite post title is "User is a four letter word." I think this idea is making people think, which was my intention.

To all the people who had this idea before me -- I'm on your side.

To those who said dishwashers have users -- sure they do. But they typically have owners' guides, not user's guides. Owners are powerful. Users, somehow, don't seem to be.

The masses coming to the blog have left me some pretty indignant comments. Developers, in particular, seem to think this word is a perfectly fine part of their world. I'm grateful that you think about users in your design. I'd be even more grateful if you think of them as people. I think the closer you are to technology, the more you need to use this word. I'm not out to stop you. But please allow me to think differently.

I came to this point because I think the book is/will be better with fewer "users" in it. When it's done you can judge for yourself.

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John Jorgensen

Great post. This people instead of users idea really resonates with me and i feel its an important distinction. This sort of thing is what may end up becoming a large factor in separating the future successful internet start ups from the failures.


I noticed you used the term "masses". Please don't use the word "masses"; we're people. Words matter.

Josh Bernoff

@Matt. Touche! You're right, of course. /josh

Jeffrey Eisenberg

Keep the faith! It's never to late to be right :-)

David Brain

You definitely hit a nerve Josh. And that's just great. User, consumer, mass all betray a state of mind that is outdated.

James Cherkoff

"The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife." Ogilvy On Advertising.



Great post - user just stinks with subservience. It is the term the uber-engineers developed for the poor slobs who would have to use their brilliant software.

Time to put it away.

Tom O'B


Newspaper/books calls their "users" readers, TV/film calls their "users" audiences/viewers. I think each industry has a term for the consumers that are using their products. The Internet is a complex medium hence "users" seems to be the best way to describe the people who are "using' the Internet. Some of us might not like the term but can somebody suggests a better term that can capture all aspects of the Internet? I don't think terms like owners, consumers, people, human beings, carbon based life form are any better.

Jonathan Trenn

I've always felt that the term'users' made sense, but I never liked it. It is a catch all, which is good because it encompasses those that may 'use' something at work but not own it.

In fact, I once headed an organiation called for Panasonic called the "M2 Users Association". Never liked the name. But it was the most appropriate.

Gabriel Kent

With you.

I vow to avoid using the word 'user' and instead refer to _people_ in the proper context.



Hmm, there's a Leica users group, a Leica user forum, and a lot of talk about "Leica users". Yes, designed by über-engineers, but not used by slobs.

And in the bad old days, the "poor slob" often was one of those nasty über-engineers, p'haps even the one who wrote the software …

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