Dont Call People Users

From GerryMcGovern?'s New Thinking column: http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/nt/2002/nt_2002_04_01_users.htm

... To call someone a user is largely meaningless. To call them a reader, customer, investor, employee, creates a focus for why you have a website and what you want it to achieve.

We don't call people car users, bicycle users or horse users. Rather we call them drivers, cyclists and riders. We name them for the predominant activity they carry out while engaged with a tool or animal ...

Part of me wants to stammer out exceptions: that the computer is a uniquely versatile tool, and no word more specific than "user" will do. And yet, perhaps we would gain from trying to use more specific names. If instead of "user", what if we used "reader", "editor", "correspondent", "manager", etc., etc. ... Would that help our focus? Is "user" a semantic form of GoldPlating? -- FrancisHwang

The sentence about drivers and riders not being called car users and horse users has a major flaw: Every person using a car is a driver, may he be a policeman or a cabman. Every person using a horse is a rider, may he be a jockey or a cavalryman. So if you try to focus on your audience (which is a good thing) by calling them investors, you are excluding some of the users. Since, yes, users is the general term.

Is a passenger in a car not also a car user? Are drivers of a carriages and farmers with ploughs not a horse users? If your specification says "Breed the horses so that they are best for horse users", you could end up with a draft horse, or a race horse, or a war horse.

The important thing to make clear is not how you use the computer, but why you are using it.


In a talk I attended, given by Jens Pas from I2B (http://www.i2b.be) a few months back, a phrase that made a big impression on me was "Replace users with friends."

I liked the way this was presented - without mention-quotes, so that we were literally invited to make friends of our users, even though the practical message was to forego one turn of phrase ("the user wants...") in favor of another ("my friend Bob wants...").


Wiki "users" have been variously called visitors, authors, editors, housekeepers and junkies. Are we missing something?

See WelcomeVisitors, MoreAboutAuthoring, VolunteerHousekeeper, RecentChangesJunkie.

WikiGnome, WikiMaster, WikiButcher, WikiZen (WikiCitizen), FriendlyPeerContributor


Does anyone really believe that changing a term will have any real effect? I don't see someone jumping up and saying, "Oh my god! They're readers not users, we should be doing this not that!" I am more concerned with approaches used in designing software (or whatever) than with the precise terminology used.

Well, of course just changing a word, by itself, does nothing. The idea is that it's supposed to prod you into thinking more specifically about roles that users could satisfy. Maybe the question could be rephrased like so: Instead of having amorphously defined users with lots of different capabilities, should we focus on having roles that serve as groupings of different capabilities? -- francis

I would suggest reading a good text on marketing and market segments. This is a far more effective way to understand the concept. Just a pet peeve of mine, too much time wasted changing words without changing thought patterns. Change the thought patterns and let the words take care of themselves.

Skip the titles and call people by their names. Kind of hard to list 6 billion names for the users of water, and for lesser uses like of the web, millions, or this wiki, thousands. This page: MarkRogers, FrancisHwang, and number of nameless individuals. All people are not users, all users are not identifiable with names, titles, occupations, segments, or capabilities. They can be classified by a role, which is what the word "user" defines.


ItDepends on whether you are speaking in the singular (user) in which you can call the person by name or appropriate noun, in the plural (users), the reference may refer to a whole body of individuals and is an appropriate grouping term. User and Users can also refer to a computer or network of computers. The tone of the opening remarks have more to do with the "depersonalization", or "generalization" that such terms introduce to the description. -- MarkRogers


When I think about the people who will be using my programs, I am usually able to think of names for them. When I write custom software, I have a specific person in mind. Will Fabrice like this feature? Should I ask him about this detail of the AcceptanceTest?

When I write software for general consumption, I make up names if I have to. Okay, say that Alice from accounting wants to print a report...

The nice thing about language is how versatile it can be. If we want to avoid the phrase "the users", we are perfectly able to.

It does not necessarily follow that we should.


I'm somewhat sympathetic with those who don't like generic names like Users -- they are very depersonalizing and don't suggest very much about the "users" -- so the word functions as a placekeeper available for more specialization in the form of "kinds of users."

The discussion reminds me of the term "stakeholders" which is longer and in some ways more general still since Users are often said to be a kind of Stakeholder. One can specialize the various terms by the major categories of functional services so that Bank Users become Account Holders (Savings, Checking, Money Market, etc.) and so forth.

I like Role-oriented Use Cases in a Scenario/personalized format. They give the whole concept a sort of anchor in reality. Frankly I don't see how to escape from some kind of generalization. So is the issue really the entailments of "Users" as people who use other people as a means?

I really hate "Customers" for example, because it defines people narrowly in an economic way. Clients is a little better. Walmart uses Associates. All the multi-level marketing/network marketers folks define themselves in terms of up-lines and down-lines, positioning themselves in a hierarchy.

Focus terms that capture the various roles that Users play just break them up into pieces. Game programs have Players. Complex electronic equipment has Operators. Anyway -- What other term would you prefer? -- RaySchneider

"User" is a role, but perhaps it's not a specific enough one. In writing specs for my day job and various freelance gigs, I've had chances to use more specific names for roles like "author", "editor", "shopper", "administrator", "subscriber", etc. Sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn't. The times I didn't I'll attribute to laziness.

Perhaps this page is really discussing, in a roundabout way, a specific-task-focused approach to requirements. (Probably this is discussed elsewhere onWiki, too.) People don't use software for the joy of using it. They use it to get other things done. What are those other things?


"We don't call people car users, bicycle users or horse users. Rather we call them drivers, cyclists and riders. We name them for the predominant activity they carry out while engaged with a tool or animal ..."

We also call "car users" "motorists" (Or at least we do in the UK) in a sort of hang-over from the day when owning a motor car was unusual enough to define one and it was a complicated enough activity to need actual time spent on it. (The days when it required goggles and half-an-hour to crank start it and things.)

That would seem a similar sort of word usage.

-- KatieLucas
Instead, call users junkies:
 <flippant>
Disrespectful terms for people will bring SchadenFreude to the workplace, and that means that the less evolved programmers will have a better time of it. Since management cannot pay adequately for the higher-thinking forms of programmer, you are likely to come out ahead.
 </flippant>

Replacing "user" by "programmer", "editor" or whatever is only the first step towards using concrete personas, personality archetypes of users. Limiting the detail of a persona to a profession or role is completely artificial and leads to high cognitive load.

For example, if you're designing an automobile then "driver" is almost as generic as "user". But you can't replace "driver" by "construction worker" or "office worker". Again, limiting personas to professions or roles doesn't work and is completely artificial. So you take off the limits, and you come up with something like:

Replacing "user" with some almost as generic substitute is doing a half-assed job.

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