Archives » November 6th, 2006

November 6, 2006

When I Open My Own Web Design Agency

When I open my own web design agency, I will outlaw the word “users“. It won’t be allowed in the building. If I’m walking through the halls and I hear you say it, you will be fired on the spot. There will be a list of acceptable alternatives. Among them will be visitors, readers, guests, writers, participants, members, contributors, commenters, customers. And here’s one that’s sure to be controversial: people.

It’s weird that the one thing tech dweebs and marketing dweebs have in common is the habit of dehumanizing the very people who make their jobs necessary. Both create products that are meant to be used by people, but both have this way of brushing them off, of lumping them into one big inhuman mass that they can call “users“.

What brings this up is that I heard the phase “User Generated Content” for about the 3,642,345th time this week, this time in the context of Gannett newspapers, who has a plan to bust open their newsroom and turn their readers into reporters. It’s a really exciting idea, and it’s exactly what newspapers need to do to survive. Stop relying so much on the “paper” part of the business, embrace the 24-hour news cycle, and focus on what’s happening locally. It’s just unfortunate that they still insist on calling contributions from the community “User Generated Content“. For one thing, making it impersonal like that just makes it sound like they want to get some free work from the community. Like the public is just another reporter you can hand an assignment to, except they’re not on the payroll. Bonus!

But beyond that, it’s the lack of respect that’s embodied in the words they use:

We’re not users, we’re people.

We don’t generate, we create.

It’s not content, it’s stories.

But I guess you can’t call it “People Created Stories“, because that’s just lame. But there’s got to be a middle ground, something that’s not so condescending. And it’s even worse when “User Generated Content” gets abbreviated to UGC. UGC isn’t something I write, it’s something the doctor prescribes me an antacid for.

The folks at Wired are trying to call it crowdsourcing. But again: good idea, not-so-good name.

Maybe there isn’t any right thing to call it, but there sure are wrong things. And “User Generated Content” isn’t just wrong, it’s insulting. Three words that will be outlawed in the Computer Vet Industries, Inc. world headquarters.