Friday, July 27, 2007

"User" terminology revisited

Julian's added a comment on my previous post asking what we call "users" if we want to get away from using that term explicitly.

There are comments on the original post that I linked to that discuss some alternatives, with most people concentrating on the relationships between the two parties. Tim Harrion's remark "How about terms like readers, members, contributors, visitors, or guests?" is particularly apt in this regard.

Companies have customers, blogs have readers, forums have contributers, a website has visitors. Just because they are using a piece of technology to perform some task doesn't necessarily mean that they should be referred to solely as "users" of that technology.

People don't become Esendex customers to use an ASP.Net web application to submit an SMS message to a mobile phone operator, they become customers to send text messages.

I agree that it's not always going to be clear cut though. The term "user" is so broad it encapsulates a number of relationships, and there are situations when it would be pointless to call them anything but users. But the point that Josh was raising to was to stop thinking of people using technology, and to instead concentrate on what people want to do with your software.

This may seem like a petty difference, but how many times have the software developers among you implemented something that you think is perfect and works flawlessly, only to be told by your customers "Well, that's cool, but that's not how we work"?

Designers and developers should always be looking at what tasks people want to carry out rather than simply showcasing new technology. Getting away from calling those people "users" can help in directing attention to doing this.

No comments: