The Challenge of Replacing "User" with More Precise Terms

I am a user of tools. A computer is a tool. Therefore I am a computer user. It’s a very basic, and very old, English word that describes a relationship to the computer or software running on it.

If we want to get picky, the word “customer” is used extensively within large corporations in the context of “internal customers”… which does not involve money changing hands at all.

There are “connotations” to lots of words and many of those connotations are context-sensitive. Unless we are discriminating against groups of people, I say we should move on.

There is a saying among sys admins that the initial “l” in “user” is silent.

Obviously we should adopt MIT’s jargon for ITS and call them “lusers”.


How about a new but existing word: tekun (tek’-un). Copilot says it’s a word with a positive meaning.

“tekun” is a valid word in the Indonesian language. It translates into English as “industrious”, “persevere”, “diligent”, “zealous”, among others¹²³. The context in which it’s used can influence its exact meaning. For example, it can refer to someone who is hard-working and diligent, or it can refer to the act of persevering¹²³.

Source: Conversation with Bing, 5/6/2024
(1) tekun in English - Malay-English Dictionary | Glosbe. tekun in English - Malay-English Dictionary | Glosbe.
(2) TEKUN - Translation in English -
(3) tekun in English - Indonesian-English Dictionary | Glosbe. tekun in English - Indonesian-English Dictionary | Glosbe.
(4) What does tekun mean? - What does tekun mean?.

I worked at a place where the standard was to call them clients.

Everywhere else I’ve worked over 30+ years it’s been users. I prefer users. :man_shrugging:t3:

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Exactly my thinking. I often recall the vaunted way they refer to “Users.”

A client is a piece of software :smile:

I have been thinking about the use of such general terms as “user” and “consumer” for some time. On one hand, I am inclined to think that “user” is not a problem - since it accurately describes my role as someone using the product. However, it will be helpful and more precise to append a modifier to “user” - as well as some explicit description of personas if such a schema is used in UX or software development. It may also reduce chances of confusion since sometimes “users” are used to refer to both the human user and their representation (as user account, etc.).

On the other hand, I detest being called a “consumer” - since it implies that I consume for the sake of consuming, and that I am supposed to or driven by an imperative to do so. If I am wearing the economist hat, I might find this generalisation helpful - otherwise no useful model can be constructed.

This begs the question whether arguments for the two cases are interchangeable - of course they are. One can always say that “users” are supposed to behave in a certain way, and if they behave differently, it is a matter of holding the phone wrong. Equally, one can say the same about us as “consumers” having certain basic consumption needs as human beings, and that we need to fulfil basic consumption to realise human potential.

I guess the difference is the underlying context surrounding the use of such general terms to refer to groups of people with certain characteristics. If we start from a position of respect and consideration - that there are people with certain problems to solve and our tools can help them - the harmful effects of dehumanisation through the choice of words can be minimised. If we start from a position of institutionalisation for extraction and rent seeking, then the choice of words is just a matter of virtue signalling.

The mention of virtue signalling reminds me of Goodhart’s Law, i.e. “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”. We can call users “people” or such other words, but the substitutes will not miraculously solve the attitude of indifference or other underlying issues on everyone involved (I believe that includes “users” themselves - I like to think of “using” as an active act of participation, not of passive acceptance and learned helplessness).

For example, the use of the term “sustainable” nowadays is ubiquitous and in many cases, unthinking. Labelling something “sustainable” does not make something better, in fact it is more likely to lull us into thinking that all is good and not examine the supply chain, company philosophy and practice, etc. It will be more helpful to examine how the goods and services are being produced and how the people involved actually behave - instead of relying on labels and slogans.

I believe the same applies to “users” - I am all for great app creators referring to me as “users”, and not for a non-responsive monopoly that creates horrible apps to refer to me as “partner” or “member” in the hope of inducing fuzzy warm feelings.


“A user is also, of course, someone who struggles with addiction.” [bold added]
A user is simply a person using some thing (physical or virtual). Why the term ‘user’ would imply addiction is beyond my comprehension. Everyone knows what someone means when we talk about a ‘user’ in relation to computing devices (including it’s applications), why complicate things? Let users be users and be happy :blush:

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User is a simple, straightforward and accurate description for us using our computers. Someone with an addiction problem is an addict, including those who obsessively look at their iPhone every few seconds.

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“By Jobs’ Hammer, I…”


Well, it doesn’t involve money entering or leaving the corporation, but it often involves money moving between various groups’ budgets within the corporation.

I don’t disagree, tbh. I thought it was more than a bit pretentious, but given that it was a university and the IT boss wanted to project a “collaborative” vibe (despite being less than intuitive wrt relationships/relationship management) it’s what we were stuck with.

With regards to ‘user’ and drug users, isn’t that a slang or jargon term anyway (especially in the US); surely the actual literal term is ‘drug addict’?

It’s just the term user has been co-opted by certain dependency agencies to refer to their ‘clients’ who are the ‘consumers’ of drugs, sold to them as ‘customers’ of drug dealers and/or stores.

A person in this predicament may be one ‘partner’ in a relationship, as part of a ‘family’ group, then a ‘member’ of certain other groups in the ‘community’.

And there’s a reason we call it “funny money”. It does not always have the connotations suggested.

Some companies treat the word “customer” as a hallowed term because they believe they owe their customers something.

We do we sit on programmer/developer/analyst or tester/test analyst/QA engineer or operator/sysadmin/engineer? And lest anyone be thinking “those are just roles”… so is “user”.

If we think “user” is denigrating, please don’t let me explain other terms that have been, and are still, used for the ones we don’t like.

We are creators. We use our technology to create.

From the Thesaurus in the Dictionary application:
“He is the creator of several hit musicals. writer, author, composer, designer, deviser, maker, inventor, producer, developer; originator, initiator, instigator, generator, engineer, architect, mastermind, prime mover, father, mother; literary begetter.”

I have been using computers all my adult life. I spent much of my life treating people who had substance use disorders. In each context, the term “user” can have positive or negative connotations or none. I have never noticed the one sense of the term bleeding into the other context.

FWIW, I am a big believer in the notion that our vocabulary choices, both as individuals and as a society, can have a profound effect on how we think about the world. For me, however, I just haven’t observed any problems with the word “user.”