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.
At Square we’re removing the term “users” from our vocabulary, replacing it with “customers”, and the more specific “buyers”, and “sellers.” The word customer, given its history, immediately sets a high bar on the level of service we must provide, or risk losing their attention or business.
I’ve had similar thoughts for a long time, and I also find that the term “user” is slightly disrespectful and evokes a flippant attitude from service operators. It’s not easy to find places where I refer to Instapaper’s “users”.
My challenge in this linguistic battle, though, is that not every Instapaper account is a customer, traditionally, in that not all of them give Instapaper money directly. People who buy the app are customers. People who subscribe for $1 per month are subscribers. (People who do both are awesome.) But is there a non-insulting term for everyone else who uses the service subsidized by the customers, subscribers, and Deck advertisers?
And Instapaper’s lucky enough to have directly paying customers. What about “free” or mostly-free services that are predominantly funded by ads — the most popular, growth-inducing, and profitable business model on the web by far? “Users” are deeply entrenched in our entire industry’s culture. We can’t move past that attitude without moving past that business model, too.