DonnaM » Blog Archive » Me too – dumping the word user

Me too – dumping the word user

It’s a me too day.

Amongst many recent articles about getting rid of the word ‘user’ from our vocabulary, I liked this one from Thomas Vander Wal best. Well written and thoughtful as I expect from him.

The only thing the anti-user articles are missing is a discussion of the linguistic need to define more precisely who we are talking about. User did fill that need – it meant the person using the product. But it has become a four letter word and is often used as a derogatory term.

I have not been replacing it with ‘person’ as this is too generic and often clumsy in a sentence. I replace it with author, website visitor, reader – words that describe not who they are but what they are doing. Works for me and gives me the extra granularity I need when talking about different types of people.

6 Responses to “Me too – dumping the word user”

  1. vanderwal Says:

    I have been replacing user with “person using”. I is not as nice and neat as user, but it is working much better.

  2. Donna Maurer Says:

    Yes, that could work & differentiates that person from other persons ;)

  3. Todd Says:

    For all of our Ma.gnolia spec docs we use the word member (and visitor for non-members using the site). This only works because we use a membership model, but it does remind us that these people use our service at their discretion, and that they can leave at any time. It also reminds us that they took the time to engage with us, to sign up, and so forth, and that we owe them attention as individuals.

  4. Chris McLay Says:

    I agree with the sentiment, but I don’t think the solution is a new word – there isn’t really a new word:

    > user noun: customer, consumer, client; operator.

    In some cases you can use a more generic term (client, member etc.), but even these are problematic. In a recent project we used “staff member” instead of user, but this then got confusing when trying to differentiate between staff members using the product, and staff members nearby. One question that came up, “Are managers who use the product ‘staff members’?”. It also implied that *all* staff members were users which they were not. Switching back to the term user made everything make sense again.

    I think the solution is broader, and is probably more about how we approach the task of designing, than what terminology we use. Let’s reclaim the term rather than make it more obscure…

  5. Donna Maurer Says:

    Todd, I could see that member would work well. Clearly defines which person you are about and keeps you focused – member is a much more tightly connected concept than user.

    Chris – I had the same trouble with ‘staff’. I was going to include it in my list then remembered how tricky it was. Managers don’t want to be staff, developers are staff but aren’t who we are usually talking about etc etc

  6. Todd Says:

    Cheers to reclaiming rather than junking the word, Chris. I think for myself it boils down to the fact that ‘user’ is often too general for the projects I work on, and rather than define it over and over I just name the roles in play and run with them. For those purposes, ‘user’ comes in handy when I need to quickly point to a pre-defined set of roles in play.

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