November 10, 2005

Intelliseek: Using the Outdated Terminology... It's Users, Not Consumers

Updated: I've added this post on using the term, 'Amateur' to describe those who 'lovingly create media' instead of professional. Check it out as well. And it was Kevin Marks idea.

Yesterday, Pete Blackshaw and Intelliseek put out this press release:

Consumer-Generated Media Exceeds Traditional Advertising for Influencing Consumer Behavior, Finds Intelliseek Study

Where they said, "Consumers 50% more likely to be influenced by word-of-mouth behavior than radio/TV ads, says 2005 Intelliseek research of consumer behavior."

That's all very nice, and something we've all been seeing online, and participating in for years. But consumers?


We are not creating our own media, writing blogs (Intelliseek owns Blogpulse, a blog search product), in some cases creating our own products, as 'consumers.' We are *users* with a proactive capital U.

Users are people who go out, find stuff they like, publish, remix and create a new. They are smart, they are proactive. They don't take being marketed to, but would rather either discover or get more real information from people they trust. Users have been operating digitally since the advent of the internet.

Consumers are those whose mouths are wide open, pointed toward the sky, so they can't see what's going on, like baby birds, helpless and clueless and waiting to be marketed to, while information or products are spoon-fed to them by marketers. Consumers are so 1980's.

It's Users. Get your ticket now on the cluetrain. If you keep talking about consumers, the users will pass you by as they take control of their own media, product interests and activities.

Posted by Mary Hodder at November 10, 2005 08:04 AM | TrackBack

I'd never thought about it until reading this post, but when I was a teenager (during the era of the TRS-80), calling someone a "user" was *not* a compliment. There are two very negative meanings to "user": someone who uses people without regard for their feelings, and someone who uses drugs.

When it comes to commodities, whether I consider myself a user or consumer depends on what I do with the item in question. I consume my groceries. I consume far more Diet Pepsi than is good for me. I consume fiction at a frightening rate. But I *use* computer hardware and software to do other things. Then there are purchases like artwork, which I neither use nor consume, but cherish for themselves.

Shouldn't it be up to us--the patrons, clients, customers, aficionadi--to decide whether we are users, consumers, students, or something else, depending on our specific relationship to the product or service?

Posted by: Sallie Goetsch (rhymes with "sketch") at November 10, 2005 09:27 AM

Hi Sallie,
Well, yes, people should label themselves. But when other's label us, I prefer the term 'users' of which I'm one. I am a user of computers and the internet the same way drug users use drugs.

The internet is my caffine or my chocolate hit.


Posted by: mary hodder at November 10, 2005 09:32 AM

I agree with Sallie. Mary, if you're going to namecheck cluetrain, follow their line: "We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers - we are human beings".

Posted by: Paul Montgomery at November 10, 2005 04:06 PM

Paul, I agree that users doesn't work for everyone, though I like it for me. See this post: for another idea: amateur, defined as those who 'lovingly create media,' which i like very much.


Posted by: mary hodder at November 10, 2005 04:29 PM


You are 100% right about Consumer being the wrong term - it shows something of an us and them attitude . However, I don't think user is the right term either. Reading reports on blogs of things like bombings and tsunamis certainly highlights how incorrect 'consumer' is, but also that 'user' is wrong as well. I've been using the term Online Personal Media, though this is also flawed as a lot of the data in the blog/board-spheres comes from non -personal sources.

Posted by: Matthew Hurst at November 10, 2005 05:54 PM

User is a term used for only two groups of people in the world: computer operators and drug addicts.

Posted by: Michael Martine at November 10, 2005 07:46 PM

Mary! I don't like the "consumer" thing either, and so try to speak of "individuals" when discussing privacy and civil rights.

BUT...the problem is that "consumer" is a specific term in the law. For instance, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the word "person" is used to describe businesses, "users" describes people who buy credit reports, and "consumer" is the word to describe normal people! It's baked into the damn law.

So I support your cause and nominate you to revise the code. User...individual...I don't care. Just no more consumer.

Posted by: Chris Hoofnagle at November 10, 2005 10:38 PM

A Consumer is an advertising and marketing term that identifies a target audience, and users always meant to me a group of computer users. I tend to apply the term audience and if possible people but so freakin' what? Why is your language or mine something that requires confirmation? Get over it, run a lap, pump some endorphin, smile and let go. Now see what you've done, you've put this image of 12 people in line at the Starbucks all cranked up, ready to consume and use not a person in the group. Just don't call me a consumer what a laugh! Say that the next time your reach for your iPod.

Now is the role of media changing? Absolutely and is advertising a part of the change? Oh no...Google's been built on my personal relationship with that freakin' search term box. Sorry..Googler's are banking an advertising fortune and believe anything you'd like but to them we're consumers.

BTW Napster you suck, and have for a long time. Sean you rock just not long enough.

Posted by: xe0n at November 11, 2005 05:40 AM

There's an interesting term that began in use by comsumer electronics industry to differentiate categories of products that might be considered. Between the consumer models and professional models of digital cameras you'll find a category called prosumer. A prosumer is one who produces and consumes in this case media. It's a term that works when thinking about bloggers, podcasters and vidloggers and even indy musicians. They are all producers/consumers - prosumers of media. So maybe prosumer is even a better distinction than user as it connotes action and productivity.

Posted by: mobilejones at November 11, 2005 08:05 AM

: )
Yay for "users"! Users care about usefulness and usability, things that keep us (software developers) focused on some of the most important things, and applies regardless of whether we are charging a gazillion dollars for our software or creating open source products or even a simple blog.

When I "use" a tool -- as the "user", I am the one doing the cool thing. Doesn't matter what it is -- I *use* my HD video camera, my Powerbook, and my paintbrush. I could care less if drug dealers *use* the same word.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra at November 11, 2005 02:45 PM

Between programmers, sysadmins, and others who actually understand technology, "user" is normally written and spoken with an "L" in front. Only in front of the "users" or "customers" do we behave ourselves and pretend that they're worthy of a second's respect.

Lusers consume and befoul the world around them, and by definition of being "users" can contribute nothing except their wallets.

Contributors, authors, designers, creators, those are positive terms, but they require rather more education, hard work, and dedication than "users" are capable of.

Posted by: A. Sysadmin at November 17, 2005 11:40 AM

toffler is so very out of fashion these days but his term 'prosumer' (long hand, producing consumer') might be apt. i fretted over the use of the word consumer even in this abbreviation until reading bruce sterling get everso eloquent in shaping things. prosumer is just fine and besides its a simply networked state to be in.

Posted by: david at November 22, 2005 11:26 PM

I've been working on this problem for quite a while and after needing a term in a paper, decided to break down and create one that's all encompassing: COMMER. If you're inclined, here's my take on it:

Posted by: Kep! at November 29, 2005 09:12 PM

hmmm having run a business selling both professional and consumer electronics, i was always under the impression that 'prosumer' meant a crossover between pro-fessional and con-sumer products?

Posted by: nigel at January 6, 2006 07:13 PM

@ Mary and the comments about her alternative 'labelling': I very much agree with the approach Mary has taken to this.

I, as a person with my eyes open and access to a wealth of non-biased information on products, do not need to receive a knock at my door asking if I want to save money by changing my utility company. I certainly do not need regular phonecalls from mobile phone companies saying they can save me money if I switch to them.

When I decide I want to save some money I will then look for the information in my own way, comparing the pro's and con's of going with a cheaper supplier, who may have a poor service record, to that of paying more money for a supplier who will be reliable.

To this end I am not a consumer in the traditional sense and the internet, with it's ever growing functions that make the world so much smaller, is growing an online nation of people who "use" the internet to make informed decisions rather than acting on biased advertising strategies direct from the companies who want your money.

Would it not be better for instance if a certain bank had not paid Samuel L. Jackson a small fortune to baffle people with a mixture of childrens fairy tales on prime-time tv, and had instead invested that money in developing their customer services and online services?

When a person has bought and connected with a product so much that they decide to produce online content to share the love or hate of the product with the world then they are doing so as 'users' of that product and they are 'using' technology to assist others in making informed decisions.

@ A. Sysadmin: You seem to have the twisted attidude I had when I was a Systems Administrator. This being that a system works perfectly well for those with a little knowledge and common-sense, but put a "user" in front of it and it will be "broken" in 5 secs or just plain useless to them.

When I took a step back and thought about it from a different perspective I handed in my notice and became a developer.

A good developer is someone who always looks at a problem through the eyes of the end-user and a Sys Admin using systems that have been well developed should look at their users as "users" not "Lusers" which is a horrible term.

No matter what reason a user has for finding a system difficult to use, the developer is the person responsible for designing an interface or workflow that is more intuitive.

A lot of the time the end-user is not the client and causes all sorts of problems as they have their own ideas on what a good website is, but that's just another obstacle that stands in the way of a developer doing their job. The other main cluprit to projects not being developed to their potentiasl is lack of funds to incorporate usability.

Anyway I have moved away from the main subject quite a lot, but felt A. Sysadmin's thoughts deserved a response.

Posted by: Paul Gardner at January 7, 2006 06:51 AM