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Why we love "users"

I think it was a whole 48 hours into this new blog when someone wrote a comment that criticized us for the word "users".

"You start off by insulting "users" (get a clue and find a better term - they're out there)"

We knew sooner or later we'd have to justify the word "users" to someone.

Why do people object to the word? The arguments I've been hearing for years (by a very small, but occasionally vocal group that does include some very smart folks) are that it's the same word drug dealers use for their customers. Fair enough. But just because drug dealers use it doesn't mean we shouldn't.
The chances of the word "user" disturbing just about anyone in our core audience is pretty remote. We did upset at least one guy, in this blog, but anyone who disapproves of the word "user" in this context probably won't like much of the other less-than-politically-correct and possibly insensitive things we do, say, and recommend.

Besides the drug reference, another complaint I've heard about "users" is that it has connotations of "he's a user" as in "he's using her". But again, that's a different context. I certainly won't stop saying, "I'm using my favorite hammer..." because it, what, implies I'm exploiting the poor defenseless tool? (I know, I know, this just means that I "don't get it".)

Finally, there's the argument that says "users" implies "using up". But again, that's a different context, and we're damn sure our users are smart enough to understand the difference without problems, consciously or otherwise.

Of the "better terms" that are "out there" as alternatives, the number one candidate is customer. And customer is a great word... but it's too restrictive for our purposes, because (in our opinion) it still implies a "buyer/seller" relationship. Customers pay for things. And when we say "users" we're talking about anything from organization members to music fans to web site visitors to forum guests and yes, of course, paying customers. But "customers" just didn't feel right to us because it was too specific.

The word "fans" is another good alternative, and if you inspire passionate users, you might very well end up with "fans". But the reason we don't like the word "fans" as much is because it puts the emphasis on the wrong thing... the provider. And given that our core belief is:

It doesn't matter what users think of YOU. What matters is what they think and feel about themselves as a result of interacting with (using) your product or service.

We think "users" is exactly the right word. It makes the USER the important thing. The one who cares about USEability and USEfullness, two words we really like. We don't care if we make fans. We aren't even motivated to create customers. We believe that if you can do things in such a way that you help people become passionate users, the rest takes care of itself. Because being passionate is strongly tied to happiness, and anything that makes people feel a little happier is a Good Thing.

We think that helping people develop a positive addiction to something good helps everyone. Oops... another drug reference.

Of course anything addictive can, in the extreme, become an obsession, but we trust you know what we mean.

Should we be so flippant with language? To use a word like "users" despite the implications? Sure. Because if we try to sanitize everything, to make sure that we offend and insult nobody, then we suck the life right out of it and end up delighting nobody. We'd rather piss off a pile of people than be bland but tolerable to everyone. Because once you start going down that road, you're screwed. (Oops--I said screwed.) There is rarely a way to make everyone happy and still be remarkable.

I do agree that perhaps 15 years ago, this might have been a valid complaint. But today, the word "user" has become so mainstream (even snowboarders and skiiers at our local Copper Mountain ski resort are referred to in some signage there as "users"), that it doesn't creep most people out, and especially not the younger, high-tech audience we interact with.

Ask a group of typical twenty-somethings if that word bothers them in any way. We did. They laughed. "You're joking... right?"

So, I'll go on using my scissors and my favorite spatula and my "inside voice" and my blue ski gloves and my cranberry bubble bath and NPR because... I'm a user. And a very happy one : )

Posted by Kathy on December 29, 2004 | Permalink

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» Say It With Precision from KasLog
The Creating Passionate Users blog is responding to complaints about the term "user." Thankfully, they won't be changing. That's important, because the continuing sanitizing of the language we use every day is making honest communication much mo... [Read More]

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Comments

I really can't figure out the problem some people have with the word and as such you needing to defend it's use; not that I loved reading your defense mind you :-)

I write code for people that use the software, and that makes them users of my application. It's as simple as that.

Posted by: Johannes de Jong | Dec 29, 2004 10:44:23 PM

Most language users will understand without an explanation. Explanation users like myself should enjoy your post. I did.

Posted by: Andi | Dec 30, 2004 5:34:53 AM

I guess I'm behind the times because I didn't even realize there was a problem with the word. It is such a common word, use. How can anyone have a problem with it? And on that note, I declare my membership in the "users" club. I will use my Kniepp bath oil, I will use my laptop, I will use my new Ipod (a heavenly Christmas present), I will use my knife and fork and my meal...and to those who don't approve, go take your political correctness elsewhere. It's really getting on my nerves.

Posted by: Roxanne nelson | Dec 30, 2004 12:18:13 PM

I guess I'm behind the times because I didn't even realize there was a problem with the word. It is such a common word, use. How can anyone have a problem with it? And on that note, I declare my membership in the "users" club. I will use my Kniepp bath oil, I will use my laptop, I will use my new Ipod (a heavenly Christmas present), I will use my knife and fork and my meal...and to those who don't approve, go take your political correctness elsewhere. It's really getting on my nerves.

Posted by: Roxanne | Dec 30, 2004 12:19:37 PM

user is way more helpful than "consumer" isn't it?

Posted by: James Governor | Jan 6, 2005 5:34:10 AM

Another problem with "fan" is that ... and forgive me, I haven't done my homework on the word's origins, so this is an educated guess ... it seems to be related to the word "fanatic", which implies a loss of sanity and perspective, a person who is more inclined to obsess over your presence than value the work you've done.

Posted by: AcouSvnt | Jan 26, 2005 2:24:57 PM

"Users are losers...
and losers are users...
So don't use drugs....
... dooonnnNNnn't use drugs."

- A public service announcement as heard in my teenage years while still addicted to Saturday morning cartoons.

However....
We DO have drug stores.

Drugs save peoples lives.

... just has to be the right kind of drugs.

So why can't we be talking about the right kind of users?

Keep up the good work!

Posted by: shaded | Mar 15, 2005 11:06:25 AM

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