Illegal drugs and IT are the only two industries that I know of that refer to people as “users”. It is a dreadful word. And I’m not the first to think it.
Even the expert in ‘User experience’ Donald A. Norman rails against it “One of the horrible words we use is “users”. I am on a crusade to get rid of the word “users”. I would prefer to call them “people”.
It’s time for our industry and discipline to reconsider the word “user.” We speak about “user-centric design”, “user benefit”, “user experience”, “active users”, and even “usernames.” While the intent is to consider people first, the result is a massive abstraction away from real problems people feel on a daily basis. An abstraction away from simply building something you would love to see in the world, and the hope that others desire the same.
The word and the use of it evolved over time.
The term “user” made its appearance in computing at the dawn of shared terminals (multiple people sharing time slices of one computing resource). It was solidified in hacker culture as a person who wasn’t technical or creative, someone who just used resources and wasn’t able to make or produce anything (often called a “luser”). And finally, it was made concrete by Internet companies whose business models depended on two discrete classes of usage, a paying customer (often purchasing ads) and a non-paying consumer (subsidized by viewing the ads).
In the past I’ve thought of different ways to describe “the people who use the software that we’re building”. Either Don Normans use of people or Jack’s use of customers is better.
It is as Jack says abstract at best, and derogatory at worst.
Word matter. A good place to start to change things is to start by changing our words.