Below is my MediaPost column this week, on death of the word “user.” Jim Johnson asks in the comments on the MediaPost blog: “Heck, in 10 years will the term ‘friend’ jump the shark??” My guess is that the term friend already has jumped the shark.
The â€œUserâ€ Is Dead, But What About The Consumer?
July 27th, 2007 by Max Kalehoff
I declare the â€œuserâ€ dead! Except thereâ€™s one slight problem: I canâ€™t really tell you what a user is. The first thing that comes to mind is a person who abuses drugs, or perhaps one who engages in recreational usage of them. Or perhaps a selfish person who takes advantages of others. And thatâ€™s exactly why I think the worldâ€™s infatuation with the word must end in the vernacular of technology, marketing, media and the Web.
Josh Bernoff at Forester complains:
When I started in the business 20-mumble years ago writing software manuals, people who used software were unusual (and had to be masochists). We spent a lot of time talking about users. The word user was helpful â€” it helped us to keep in mind that there was a poor slob on the other end of what we were building â€¦ But you know what? All people are users now! (With nearly 80% Net penetration in the U.S. this is pretty close to true.) Users put up with computers. People just do stuff. Nobody talks about users of dishwashers or retail stores or telephones. So why are we talking about users of computers, browsers and software?
Amen. Letâ€™s just call people what they are: people. The problem is that inaccurate buzzwords and overused vernacular, like users, distance us from our true intentions and interactions with customers and each other. Not just in technology, but in marketing, media, advertising and the Web â€” everywhere, really.
Thomas Vander Wal, a blogger and principal at Infocloud Solutions, eradicated the word from his lexicon and noted:
One benefit that came from focusing on the person and not the user has been being able to easily see that people have different desired uses and reuses for the data, information, media, etc. for the products I am working on or my clients are developing. I can see complexity more easily focusing on people than I could the user.
As for the digital-media industry, we can start by cleansing ourselves of the term â€œuser-generated content,â€ or the more annoying acronym: UGC. Why? John Udell from Microsoft, while previously at IDG, last year explained:
Everything about this buzzphrase annoys me. First, calling people â€œusersâ€ is pernicious. It distances and dehumanizes, and should be stricken from the IT vocabulary (see Those clueless users), as well as from the publishing vocabulary. IT has customers and clients, not users. IT-oriented publishers have readers, not users.
But my distaste for the word user mandates discussion of the commonly used word â€œconsumer.â€ Being that I work in the marketing and media-information industries, I am guilty of using that word a lot. (Note that I use the word, but am not a user of it.)
Many have called me on my usage with great disdain, and I can appreciate why. Itâ€™s loaded, confusing to many, and is increasingly inaccurate in describing the people whom big marketers desire to build and maintain relationships with and sell stuff to.
Now, I donâ€™t love the word consumer, but feel stuck with it, at least for the short-term. Our industry is pragmatic in its usage. While it may be stylistically undesirable, consumer intuitively resonates â€” offering just the right balance of specificity and ambiguity to enable the gears of our marketing, advertising and media operations to turn. Suddenly veering from it would distract us all from fulfilling our day-to-day mission of doing business, no matter where in the value chain we reside.
Long-term, we should probably adopt a new term and hierarchy, to reflect shifting markets, customer niches and the growing interactive nature of marketer-customer relationships. Until then, I think consumer will have to do.
But back to â€œuser.â€ Iâ€™m all for killing it right now. How about you?