I don’t just “use” the Internet, so why am I a user?

Heh, I was reading Mary Hodder’s post about the correct term to call people who generate content and thinking back to why I hate the term “user generated content.”

It’s because whenever I hear that term I always translate it to “slave generated content.” Here’s why: there’s a lot of companies who are expecting you to help out their business models (including the one I work for — I’m challenging everyone I talk to inside Microsoft to stop thinking about monetization — except for the teams who are building monetization systems — stop thinking about “user generated content” Those thoughts will lead you down a bad path).

Why do I hate those thoughts? It’s deeper than just being a content slave for someone to make a ton of money off of by putting ads next to my words. No, it’s an attitudinal thing. If you look at folks who make content as a partner then you’ll make better experiences for everyone. And, everyone is now able to create content — as I just demonstrated a few minutes ago to EUFA.

The problem is we don’t have good language. When I’m on Flickr I’m a photographer or a commenter. When I’m here I’m a writer or a blogger. When I’m on Craig’s List I’m a job seeker or a buyer or a seller. When I’m on MSN Search or Google I’m a “searcher.” When I’m on Memeorandum I’m a “reader.”

“User” just seems so unsatisfying. “Participant” is a lot closer. What do you think?

96 thoughts on “I don’t just “use” the Internet, so why am I a user?

  1. When we write we are writers, when we photograph we are photographers. When we contribute we are contributors. When you pay us we are partners or staff.

    Calling us “users” is an insult. It implies that we are somehow parasites. If we are contributing to your bottom line you should treat us with more respect than that.

  2. When we write we are writers, when we photograph we are photographers. When we contribute we are contributors. When you pay us we are partners or staff.

    Calling us “users” is an insult. It implies that we are somehow parasites. If we are contributing to your bottom line you should treat us with more respect than that.

  3. Bill Withers wise words on this question: “Well my friends feel it`s their appointed duty / They keep trying to tell me all you want to do is use me / Well my answer said all that use me stuff / Is I wanna spread the news / That if it feels this good getting used / Oh you just keep on using me / Until you use me up — Talking `bout you using me / well it all depends on what you do / it ain`t too bad the way you`re using me / cause I sure am using you to do the things you do / Uh huh, until you use me up …”

  4. Bill Withers wise words on this question: “Well my friends feel it`s their appointed duty / They keep trying to tell me all you want to do is use me / Well my answer said all that use me stuff / Is I wanna spread the news / That if it feels this good getting used / Oh you just keep on using me / Until you use me up — Talking `bout you using me / well it all depends on what you do / it ain`t too bad the way you`re using me / cause I sure am using you to do the things you do / Uh huh, until you use me up …”

  5. thought about it. surprising solution: USER is the best. i don’t like the romanticizing of the “social” aspect of software. it’s still about signs on screens. and USER has a cool air of self-reflection: knowing what you are doing. the problem is probably mor with the notion of “CONTENT”: that’s a term i really hate (and it’s wrong too).

  6. thought about it. surprising solution: USER is the best. i don’t like the romanticizing of the “social” aspect of software. it’s still about signs on screens. and USER has a cool air of self-reflection: knowing what you are doing. the problem is probably mor with the notion of “CONTENT”: that’s a term i really hate (and it’s wrong too).

  7. Pingback: Those Bastards!
  8. Naturally, I didn’t think of what strikes me as the most important until I clicked “Post.”

    I think the choice of terms for you is what works for you. What I treasure is that you are willing to examine what that is and what are the sources of “ick” that you don’t want to perpetuate in your own speaking. Go for it.

    Your friendly blog participant, orcmid [;

  9. Naturally, I didn’t think of what strikes me as the most important until I clicked “Post.”

    I think the choice of terms for you is what works for you. What I treasure is that you are willing to examine what that is and what are the sources of “ick” that you don’t want to perpetuate in your own speaking. Go for it.

    Your friendly blog participant, orcmid [;

  10. As I started reading your post, I thought of participant, so it was cool to end up in the same place with you.

    I disagree with Tony Bishop about this. Language is very important and very small nuances can matter a great deal. “User,” “customer,” and the like do tend to allow objectivisation and separation from others who are participating with us in an economy, for example. It is useful to find terms that interrupt those automatic postures (even though the new will become automatic at some point).

    A related example that I hadn’t fully appreciated until recently, while minding my language around pattern languages, might be helpful (http://nfocentrale.net/TROST/info/2005/08/i050803b.htm#B.).

    Consider the contrast between thinking of users as having problems for which our software is a solution and regarding how our customers will participate in a world of opportunity and action in which our software is employed as a valuable instrument.

  11. As I started reading your post, I thought of participant, so it was cool to end up in the same place with you.

    I disagree with Tony Bishop about this. Language is very important and very small nuances can matter a great deal. “User,” “customer,” and the like do tend to allow objectivisation and separation from others who are participating with us in an economy, for example. It is useful to find terms that interrupt those automatic postures (even though the new will become automatic at some point).

    A related example that I hadn’t fully appreciated until recently, while minding my language around pattern languages, might be helpful (http://nfocentrale.net/TROST/info/2005/08/i050803b.htm#B.).

    Consider the contrast between thinking of users as having problems for which our software is a solution and regarding how our customers will participate in a world of opportunity and action in which our software is employed as a valuable instrument.

  12. This discussion is mostly from the POV of the providers of tech to do all this cool stuff we [the people] now can do. From my personal POV when I *use* these tools, I’m just “I.”

    From the company’s point of view, I don’t think it’s so bad to think of us as users, in the sense of a sysadmin’s users, i.e the people you have to support.

    From the, um, end-user perspective, I think most of us are fully aware of the bargain we make when we enjoy ad-supported stuff. If we don’t want a company to make money off what we produce, we’re free not to use their tools. Personally, I pay a little bit a month to use Typepad for blogging, because I think it works better.

  13. This discussion is mostly from the POV of the providers of tech to do all this cool stuff we [the people] now can do. From my personal POV when I *use* these tools, I’m just “I.”

    From the company’s point of view, I don’t think it’s so bad to think of us as users, in the sense of a sysadmin’s users, i.e the people you have to support.

    From the, um, end-user perspective, I think most of us are fully aware of the bargain we make when we enjoy ad-supported stuff. If we don’t want a company to make money off what we produce, we’re free not to use their tools. Personally, I pay a little bit a month to use Typepad for blogging, because I think it works better.

  14. I think there’s little needs to argue over the semantics of a few words here. Particularly since the argument breaks down many times. Here’s one example from the linked article:

    “They are smart”

    I had a longer, more biting post written, but it was lame. It basically came to a few points:

    1) The average techie or pro blogger is not representative of the average person
    2) Look at myspace/livejournal/blogger/msnspaces/etc. for the quality of the average user

    Basically, don’t give “users” too much credit. Most of what they “generate” is pure garbage. I defy you to look at a few hundred users on the services listed in 2 and tell me differently.

  15. I think there’s little needs to argue over the semantics of a few words here. Particularly since the argument breaks down many times. Here’s one example from the linked article:

    “They are smart”

    I had a longer, more biting post written, but it was lame. It basically came to a few points:

    1) The average techie or pro blogger is not representative of the average person
    2) Look at myspace/livejournal/blogger/msnspaces/etc. for the quality of the average user

    Basically, don’t give “users” too much credit. Most of what they “generate” is pure garbage. I defy you to look at a few hundred users on the services listed in 2 and tell me differently.

  16. I think that even in general terms, “user” has a bad conotation. Personally, I don’t (and won’t let) anyone on our operations team use the term “user”. Everyone is client or a customer. Or in Scoble’s case on this topic, maybe you coule go so far as to say “consumer”, but then again “consumer-generated-content” sounds a little off.

    Maybe we can think of users more in terms of web architecture. Web browsers used to be clients, using servers. Now, they’re smart-clients that work with the servers – blurring the line between user and author. So say, “Intelligent Content authors”… yeah, maybe something like that.

  17. I think that even in general terms, “user” has a bad conotation. Personally, I don’t (and won’t let) anyone on our operations team use the term “user”. Everyone is client or a customer. Or in Scoble’s case on this topic, maybe you coule go so far as to say “consumer”, but then again “consumer-generated-content” sounds a little off.

    Maybe we can think of users more in terms of web architecture. Web browsers used to be clients, using servers. Now, they’re smart-clients that work with the servers – blurring the line between user and author. So say, “Intelligent Content authors”… yeah, maybe something like that.

  18. “Citizen” suggests not just the non-professional status of an amateur, but also someone endowed with rights and responsibilities to others in his social domain.

  19. “Citizen” suggests not just the non-professional status of an amateur, but also someone endowed with rights and responsibilities to others in his social domain.

  20. I guess whether you’re being used or not depends on what you intended when you created the “user generated content,” whatever that might be. If you have a blog, presumably you’re doing it because you want people to read it, and if a service like Blogger or MSN Spaces or even Google helps get more people to read it, then they’re doing you a favour — so why shouldn’t they get something out of it too? Same thing with Flickr. Presumably you put your pictures there so that people can see them. Flickr helps more people see them, and you help them by letting them run ads next to your content. The word partnership comes pretty close, I would think. If you don’t want them to make money from your content, don’t use their service.

  21. I guess whether you’re being used or not depends on what you intended when you created the “user generated content,” whatever that might be. If you have a blog, presumably you’re doing it because you want people to read it, and if a service like Blogger or MSN Spaces or even Google helps get more people to read it, then they’re doing you a favour — so why shouldn’t they get something out of it too? Same thing with Flickr. Presumably you put your pictures there so that people can see them. Flickr helps more people see them, and you help them by letting them run ads next to your content. The word partnership comes pretty close, I would think. If you don’t want them to make money from your content, don’t use their service.

  22. Hmmm, the whole phrase “user generated content” is smoke for the real verbs that should be used for content. It’s “contributed content”, “attributed content”, and “stolen content”, right? The phrase is used to hide what the actual “user” is doing with your stuff.

    The word “content” here also strives for distance from reality. Bloggers write articles or essays or journals. Flickr gets contributions of pictures. Content is the most loose description of some very specific things.

    I hope I’m not starting some flamewar on “open content” now by recognizing that the author might have some connection to their writing.

    Oh, did I say “author”? Maybe that’s the noun and verb that is key?

  23. Hmmm, the whole phrase “user generated content” is smoke for the real verbs that should be used for content. It’s “contributed content”, “attributed content”, and “stolen content”, right? The phrase is used to hide what the actual “user” is doing with your stuff.

    The word “content” here also strives for distance from reality. Bloggers write articles or essays or journals. Flickr gets contributions of pictures. Content is the most loose description of some very specific things.

    I hope I’m not starting some flamewar on “open content” now by recognizing that the author might have some connection to their writing.

    Oh, did I say “author”? Maybe that’s the noun and verb that is key?

  24. Larry #27: has a good spin on who is the actual user ? Is it me or the corporations that drive revenue off that content ?

    Anyhoot-most content is created under the ccc banner and if I were to use/copy other stuff for non revenue efforts , it becomes “fair use”. Yeah, we have seen how the needle moves both ways.

    Actually we are all trolls, when we look at it. We troll where conversations occur and based on that spew our minds out again.

  25. Larry #27: has a good spin on who is the actual user ? Is it me or the corporations that drive revenue off that content ?

    Anyhoot-most content is created under the ccc banner and if I were to use/copy other stuff for non revenue efforts , it becomes “fair use”. Yeah, we have seen how the needle moves both ways.

    Actually we are all trolls, when we look at it. We troll where conversations occur and based on that spew our minds out again.

  26. And really, if instead of “Upload photos”, Flickr said “Upload your user generated content”, would you be as apt to use it?

    It does one thing very well – manage photos – rather than trying to manage everything.

  27. And really, if instead of “Upload photos”, Flickr said “Upload your user generated content”, would you be as apt to use it?

    It does one thing very well – manage photos – rather than trying to manage everything.

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