Every decade or so this question comes up. Why do we use that awful U-word to describe our users. It's hard to even formulate the question without sounding stupid. And every time the discussion comes up, it lasts a while before everyone gives up because there really aren't any better words, and this is the word everyone uses so what are you going to do.
Hey I called my second company UserLand Software, because I wanted to be clear who we were focused on. The idea was we would make a wonderful playground that we, as users, would love to er ahem -- use. And we'd make it easy enough to develop apps inside the land that developers and users would find they became the same people. Software made by users for users. This was a good idea, I felt.
Words are like formats. You could try to come up with a better version of RSS, for example -- but the old one won't go away, so now you have two formats where once there was just one. That's why I say that two ways to do something is worse than one way, no matter how much better the second way is than the first. It's like taking features out of products -- you really can't do it. The users will eventually make you put it back (that is if you pay any attention to them at all).
So rather than run away from the U-word (toward what exactly?) I decided to embrace it, fully -- and name the company UserLand. The idea caught on even if the company ultimately didn't make it.
The answer is to love those users so much that they don't mind being called users. That's an art a lot of tech companies have yet to master.
Ted, I think sometimes proper meaning can only be derived and not defined. I could call my help-desk users here at the office "patrons" or some such. But Wal-Mart calls their customers patrons also. And clearly we don't mean the same thing. No matter which word I choose, the meaning to me will be the same. It's an imbued meaning. Just my $.02.
I also have respect for drug users, Ted. :-)
The problem with calling users "people" is that it's not differentiated. Someone can be a person without being a user of my product. So if I wrote about "peoples of my product" you'd think I lost my mind. But "users of my product" well that rolls off the tongue nicely.
I imagine Jack Dorsey feels pretty powerful these days, but even now he's not so powerful that he can change the programming of millions of people with a single blog post. It would require a very large budget, much more money than Square has, to try to reprogram all those minds, and in the end what would be the profit?
It's farting into the wind, and proof that people pay too much attention to the titans of tech.
BTW, if you ever want to know the truth about this stuff ask Woz. He'll give you a straight answer.
Dave, you have a very respectful view of your users. That's one thing I noticed early on in your writing. When you use the word "user", you have in your mind a person who is very intelligent (they are using your sotware after all) and worth your time and effort to help improve their lives in some way. Your use of the word is the proper use.
Having said all that, I've always found myself uncomfortable with the word "user". Perhaps it the connotation with "drug user". In that case, someone is taking advantage of another person who has become dependent on them. The dealer or pusher doesn't really care or respect the "user", they just need them to stay hooked and be able to pay. I don't like this connotation.
But then what else do you call a person who uses your product? This is especially a problem for free products and services. In many ways "user" is the right word. Perhaps, we just need to own the word and make the primary context one of respect and care.
For what it's worth, with my (now defunct) web startup TileStack, we simply called them "people". It's not super descriptive of our relationship, but it felt right to me. It was a nice reminder that the content being created and the questions being asked were being done by real human beings that were worth my time and attention.