@aral trying to avoid the term "user" for some time now, and usually that is no problem.

But there's some clumsiness when typing texts with many occurrences of eg. "developer" and "people-who-use-the-software" ie. at the early stage when you can only refer to stakeholders as a very generic group still.

It disappears when you can give your audiences clear names, of course. And sometimes (when talking federated apps) I can refer to "fedizens" as compelling work-around.

You also face that? Tips?

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@humanetech @aral what about just "people"? Been using that a bit lately myself.

@Fiiv @aral oh yes, I use that :)

Example. Now writing on factors that lead to success and failure of free software dev.

From dev's perspective one factor is entitlement of "people who use the software". But in bullet list that starts with some bold-faced words "Entitlement" is too non-descriptive and "User entitlement" isn't.. but has the word we shall not speak.

"People's entitlement" isn't all that great as alternative. Too vague. Okay, in this case I'll opt for "Unwarranted entitlement".

@Fiiv @aral

PS. I like the practice of avoiding "User" and I think it leads to better thinking about what we do.

But I also get question from people whom I cooperate with like "Why don't you just say user in these cases where it is easiest and practical?"

@humanetech @aral good point!

I like the suggestion of "fedizens". I also encountered this, was working on an app called "Stack" & we called the people using it "Stackers".

@Fiiv @aral

Yes, as soon as you have such name you are out of the woods where it concerns "user addicts" :D

@humanetech @aral what is wrong with the term user? I know it is also used for drug users.
If we start removing all words which have a (possibly bad) niche second meaning to them, we will run out of terms quite quickly...

@chfkch @aral

I understand and we're using it for many years, right? Yet I feel that by using it there's a subtle psychology at play that leads to a depersonalization of those whom you are building the software for. It becomes easier to forget to address real human needs and become mired in technical concerns.

Guess it works similarly to how in war we refer to "enemy" and never specifically mention groups of people, because they must be anonymous, dehumanized so you'll willing to fight them.

@humanetech @chfkch @aral while I try to find better terms than “user” when I can, I think the bigger problem is the “increase revenue and dominate at all costs” mentality in companies that leads to dehumanizing “users”.

If a company moves away from the word, it provides zero indication of whether it is better respecting the people using their software. It’s good to find better language, but there are more powerful alienating factors than that word.

@mitch @chfkch @aral

Agreed on the first point. And while you are correct on your second point too, the clear distinction from and exploitative practices happens on many fronts. Language while just a tool here, is also a powerful one. Especially when tying more humane communication firmly to free software movement.

But the proof is always in the pudding, and real trust must be earned with what one eventually concretely provides in terms of deeds and deliverables.

@humanetech @mitch @chfkch @aral Honestly, this is an instance where I think trying to find a new word is not helping at all.

If you changed all the terms related to "user" to fnargle, in a relatively short time, a fnargle is someone who fnargles something; if the thing is software, that puts them on the fnargling side of the fnargle interface, and exactly nothing has changed.

We're not debating the "luser" term here, after all, which I've never actually heard used in practice FWIW.

@humanetech @mitch @chfkch @aral Where I do find the term loses fnarglefulness is that there may be different groups of fnargles with different concerns; here, using more specific terms helps a lot IMHO.

@jens @mitch @chfkch @aral


Yes, I get your point. But that also refers to my initial question, and what others mention too on the various discussion forks we already have. I feel in general it is worth considering the benefits and impact and in some cases alternative use makes sense, and elsewhere not so much.

In many cases it is easy to avoid "user" and it also improves the communication. Sometimes it is awkward, because yes it is a familiar shorthand term us techies always used.

@humanetech @mitch @chfkch @aral I know you do :)

But let's transfer this briefly. I mean, when you read instruction manuals and so forth about cars, there's talk about "driver" and "passenger", which are more specific terms - but they're still general enough that it doesn't really tell you anything about the person themselves.

I haven't confirmed this, but strongly suspect that when people design cars, they will use the same terms for the respective groups of people.

What would you call ...

@humanetech @mitch @chfkch @aral ... a software user otherwise? Keyboard typer? Mouse mover? Finger swiper? Screen onlooker?

I think a relatively simple term to describe the person who interacts with the interface is necessary, and if you don't want to go into specifics of the physical interface as I did above, "use" is one of the simplest terms there is.

Some older documentation used "operator". I kind of like that, but it's really a more complicated term for "use".

@humanetech @mitch @chfkch @aral The point is, I wouldn't mind a *better* different word. I just don't know one offhand.

@jens @mitch @chfkch @aral

Yes, this is exactly the exercise I am putting myself through now. The awkward phase is in theory quite short, because as soon as you are further into the process you should have specific names to choose from e.g. "the authors and reviewers" for a CMS. But how are they named when grouped together?

Anyway this was why I tooted and responses thus far are interesting. Thanks for the feedback!

@humanetech @jens @mitch @aral wer should all adapt the German word Sachbearbeiter. A person who bearbeits Sachen (something like handler)

I participate in conversations around food growing, food sovereignty & commons
Find similar issues in such conversations around the term 'consumer' due to its common usage - someone who consumes goods in a market economy - it doesnt always feel the appropriate term to use, particularly when talking about people involved in receiving food that is produced as part of a common endevour.

Some people use 'eaters' but i find that hard to like or use. @humanetech @mitch @chfkch @aral

@dazinism @humanetech @mitch @chfkch @aral Agreed.

I don't like the term "consumer" so much because it's used in economy like you say. From a purely technical point of view, producer/consumer makes sense. We do use these terms in tech as well, but for system components (e.g. producing and consuming events).

@jens @humanetech @mitch @chfkch This works for me: keep things second person whenever possible (“you”). If that doesn’t work, try “person.” If that’s awkward, try using the role (developer, architect, pilot, etc.) If all else fails, I guess you can still use “user” but I haven’t felt a need to in a long time.

See (and /watson, /sitejs, etc. for examples).

@aral @humanetech @mitch @chfkch Instructions make it useful to e.g. use "you", and so forth. Design documentation might make that harder. But the point is well taken, that for each kind of documentation it's perhaps best to pick a different approach.

@aral @jens @humanetech @mitch @chfkch
Looking at this from another angle : often the user is reduced to being the consumer, or even the product.

@mitch @humanetech @chfkch @aral I guess for “user stories” I try to word them like “help people who want to do X by adding Y so they can...” Our goal is ultimately to help people right?

Still the language can get awkward. User just makes sense as shorthand in software development. I think the conversation and focus on humanizing and respecting people who use our software may be more important than the word choice itself.

@mitch @humanetech @chfkch @aral It would be nice to make a distinction between people who use the software and people who are used by the software. i.e. "users" vs. "useds"

@chfkch @humanetech @aral I use person, except when the user is a subsystem.


I agree and after reading your post I realise I've been actively (semi-consciously) avoiding the term "user" too, at least when talking with non-technically-aligned people.

I think it's a gross simplification (like "content creator"; or "human" instead of person) at best it's not helping the discourse.

Phrasing the same thing action-oriented ("using") or with more descriptive terms can be more clunky, but also more informative and expressive.



That being said, I think it's good to be mindful about language, but sometimes bending onseself over backwards can make the whole discussion obscure and be detrimental to it.

I think if both speakers are somewhat pragmatic and generally respectful in all other regards, then speaking as one thinks can sometimes be more respecting and genuine compared to making a lot of unfamiliar linguistic contortions stretched out artificially long under heavy processing load on the brain.


@humanetech @aral Honestly language-wise I find the term "stakeholder" much more problematic than "user" due to the tight association to exploitative capitalist organizations.

I am opposed to the corporatization of language in our spaces and always get a "ugh, the neoliberals are at it again"-shudder when I see it in political documents… :F

"User" on the other hand is a well-understood term that doesn't alienate the audience. If you want something better, just use "you" whereever applicable.

@phryk @aral

Ah you are absolutely right. Here I refered another terminology to avoid, that is used often in the tech business. I encountered it in the docs I consulted this morning mentioning "stakeholder analysis" in a "product owner" guide ... aargh!

"Product". "Owner". 🤯

I feel scope creep to my original question, ha ha ;)

But good you mention.

@humanetech @phryk @aral A couple of notes:

"user" implies agency and active choice on the part of the person doing it. "Use" is a verb, something active, something one does in the moment. It is something I can start or stop doing. Person-hood or social roles are things that are more complex and often tied to us whether we chose them or not.

The argument that "user" is a bad word because "DRUGS!" is based on a rather silly, right-wing moralism from the 1980s. Think of Nancy Reagan clutching her pearls and scolding pale children for partying on the wrong side of town. Despite the absurdity, this line of thinking led to millions of years in prison and ruined lives mostly among people of color.

I'm all for being more specific as much as possible but the case that "user" is offensive comes from some pretty grim territory and sometimes, frankly, it's just the right word.

@praxeology @phryk @aral

Good points. I agree on the drug addict equivalent. It is a bit much. But I still feel that psychologically we 'push' people away in a kind of abstraction layer in the way us software developers refer to them, making it easier to get mismatch between software and needs. It is very subtle difference, but still.

Good feedback on the thread. Use wisely and when appropriate and avoid otherwise is the general advice I gleaned from this.

@humanetech @praxeology @phryk So it’s clear that the user/drugs thing is a joke right. No one actually means for it to be taken seriously. But it does get people thinking about the parallels: what drug dealers and people farmers like Google, Facebook, etc., have in common is that they need to addict their – uhum – users to their product so they keep coming back to be exploited for profit.

@aral @humanetech @phryk I don't think it was very effective because two of the biggest "people farmers", facebook and Über, were themselves prominent in attempting to ban the word "user" within their organizations. Changing semantics definitely did not change their posture, instead it served to give their product teams a kind of faux moral superiority by claiming to better understand the people they were exploiting.

@aral @praxeology @phryk

> So it’s clear that the user/drugs thing is a joke right.

Damn, now you're telling. I went deeply under the radar, moved PC to the cellar and only using burner phones to talk with my derelict users :D

Seriously, it is a good conversation starter as this thread proves. In a best-practice guide on language use I don't know if I would mention. Maybe as jokingly in the intro..


Your chart is ready, and can be found here:

Things may have changed since I started compiling that, and some things may have been inaccessible.

The chart will eventually be deleted, so if you'd like to keep it, make sure you download a copy.

@humanetech @aral @praxeology @phryk There's a dialectical relationship between developers and users where technical skills are a source of power on our communications, and thus abuse, from Facebook and co. This is true as well for open-source (hence this conversation).

The web has been so popularized that the French tech requires elders to declare their taxes on it. But it hasn't been democratized. Technically skilled people have retained this power. 1/2

@humanetech @aral @praxeology @phryk Because they're fundamentally democratic, IT cooperatives overcome this by creating a paid and democratic contractual relationship between IT workers and non-technical users.

I don't know any software development website focusing on knowledge horizontality, where developers aren't enabled to act as gatekeepers. However I believe a sociologist, for example, could be legitimate to ask the cooperative for funding without needing to overcome gatekeeping. 2/2

if it's a joke, it's not funny. the dependence and the impotence caused by nonfree software are quite serious.
I'm not sure I ever had a chance to deliver this speech in English:

@humanetech @praxeology

I like the distinction between agent and action, and the note on abstraction a lot!

I think taking about human behaviour is related. "you're stupid" implies permanence (imho), while "you did stupid" implies one can do better next time. (Similar for positive examples.)

Outside very simple cases ("read one line of user input"), I like to call them not user, but a human trying to solve a problem. Wordier, but more ground for proper treatment of the human.

@phryk @aral

@praxeology @humanetech @phryk @aral I disagree.

I find the word "user" to be problematic not because of the "drugs connection", but because it frames the discussion about digital human rights in a way defined by service providers. It defines people by the services they use.

Consider net neutrality. Zero-rating is great for users, but bad for people.

Users don't have rights. People do.

Blogged about it some years ago:

@humanetech @rysiek @praxeology @phryk @aral How do you feel about user-developer, indicating those users that are also developers.

This makes the developers part of the users group and unifies fedizens rather than splitting. Any better words for that?

@madnificent I think it is highly contextual. There are places where the word "user" is inevitable, and fine. But in a lot of contexts, we can and should use better-suited terms.

@humanetech @praxeology @phryk @aral

User-developer sounds clunky and would end up making texts harder/longer to read.

Personally, I've always liked the word "prosumer" as a portmanteau of "producer" and "consumer", highlighting that a person is engaging in both – but I've always thought that this is a term more fitting for political/economic analysis and theory rather than something I'd use in my software…^^

@humanetech @rysiek @praxeology @aral

@phryk @humanetech @rysiek @praxeology @aral Agree. It ir indeed a bit clunky.

Without further reading, I'd interpret prosumer as users that have a pro account on a 'free' (gratis) platform like GitHub or LinkedIn.

Naming is hard.

@rysiek Rights of "citizens" are bestowed by states tho – and many don't get to be citizens.

For services I agree that there might be words better highlighting the shaping nature of its users, maybe "participants" or… "communards" – or something. But it can be easy to lose people when you're using a term people are just not familiar with.

And at least for software that's just running on the users computer and not a client I haven't ever found a better term.

@praxeology @humanetech @aral

@phryk @humanetech @aral

Think "stakeholder" could be a part of a bridge as its assumptions are private property - the driving in of the stake to claim the land, well more stealing the land from the commons of the existing people...

Language is turned to poverty if too much political correctness is respected, bridges are never pure.

We need words that hold hands OUT to people outside our tribe.

A handshake is a bridge, yes your hand might come away dirty, but its human.

@phryk @humanetech @aral

For example, is used in the project as this is a bridge to the mainstream so using wording they are familer with helps.

We take the idea of private property, and we feed this into a "commons" in this we are building a bridge and likely shaking hands with people we do not like.

If we used PC words, this would be harder to spread the power beyond the

Purity here (and in general) is a

There's a difference between communications with government institutions and with the people actually using your stuff, tho…

Also: "This repository does not contain any content." ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

// @humanetech @aral

@phryk @humanetech @aral

it contains a lot of content, just not what you were thinking of meany people have feed into the project outline over the last year

About ready to be translated into code, have a code outline coming soon cross fingers for the CTO guy who has volutered to write it, then funding and codeing, testing, codeing, feedback rollout in the real world.

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