You Are A User

There is an old saying, meant to shame those of us working on websites into acknowledging that we really don’t care about other human beings.

“The only two industries that call their customers “users” are software developers and drug dealers.”

This raises the question of what the appropriate collective noun is for a group of people who visit and interact with a website. If not “Users” then what?

The most common alternative to “Users” is “Visitor”. That’s a bit more promising as to be at your site they had to visit it in a metaphorical sense, but “Visitors” is, for me at least, too passive. It has a “take it or leave it” feel to it. Is someone who relies on your site as a part of their life and who might use it multiple times a day really a “visitor”? This to me diminishes the importance of the person using your site.

I want to think of you as much more than a passing ship in the night, so I reject visitors for general use.

The saying suggests we call them “Customers”, but this seems problematic to me for two reasons.

Many people using websites aren’t actually customers. Most sites aren’t even looking for customers. You are not a customer of my blog for example. Calling people who visit my blog “Customers” just seems wrong. Even if you do have paying customers, you still have to build your site to deal with non-customers such as prospective customers, job hunters, or teens looking to a school report on your industry.

I therefore reject “Customers” as too narrow a view of who might use your site.

Interestingly enough I also reject “Customers” as too broad.

There is a movement to replace “Consumers” and “Users” with “Customers”. But people aren’t generally “Customers” except in the context of a commercial interaction. Yes I accept that my Acura dealer thinks of me as their customer and I appreciate them treating me well as their customer. But after the few days of interaction with them as a customer, what I really want is a car that is designed for “Drivers”. You might be a customer of Williams-Sonoma but you are a “Baker”. You are Amazon’s customer but you are a “Reader”.

If I was designing the Acura or Williams-Sonoma sites I’d definitely want my team thinking about Customer Experience, but I’d also want them very aware that the people using the site are Drivers and Bakers.

So what do people do on a site. They use it. The person using your site might be a a baker, or a driver, or a student, or a job hunter or they may idly followed a link to you and think of themselves as just visiting. But the common thread is that they are at your site, and they are using your site.

To me, User is to Web Site as Driver is to Car. As Reader is to Book.

So for me, “User” is the perfect word for what we are on the web.