I was sitting at the table the other night contemplating the word “user” and trying to remember when and where I was when someone at a web marketing workshop indicated that “user” was the better term to apply rather than “visitor.”

And then at that moment a segment on NPR’s Marketplace began about the “users of the browser Firefox…,” and, “…tracking users.” An interesting segment BTW, firefox-says-goodbye-google-hello-yahoo.

This segment additionally highlights how the word user has come to describe our activity online.

Indeed “user” is applied more often to describe ourselves on the web. Who uses the desciption of “visitor” anymore?

Recently Google Analytics changed from visits and unique visitors to “sessions” and “users” respectively. And users don’t “visit” a site, they enter it (like a visitor enters your house — I know, it’s confusing).

Common words heard today are user-interface design, user agents, user computing environment, user experience, user research, usability, and user testing. This list goes on.

OK fine, “user” may better describe how we use sites, but does anyone online still think of us as visitors to a website, or customers, or clients? What could be the implications of this if we’re “users” and not a type of “visitor?”

Another awkward thing about the word “user,” I find I am using use, user, and using too much. What’s my verb now? Apply? Visits? Utilize? Manipulate or operate?

Is this broad change in terminology from “visitor” to “user” all thanks to the Web 2.0 evolution?

photo by Susan Sermoneta on Flickr Creative Commons

“User” in general conjured a different notion altogether in the 70s. And it may have had something to with the fellows in the apartment down the street sitting in a curtain-less living room in their fringed leather coats smoking twisted paper, or that’s how it was described as a child. I got the “buzz-off” sign through the window, a horizontally pointed index finger.

Now we’re a society of online users. We’re on our computer at work, our laptop or notepad at home, and our mobile in-between.

A thread could be drawn from the first telephone lines, to our answering machine attached to our landline, to our voicemail on our digital phones, to our connectivity through our computer and handheld devices.

We still want to satisfy our curiosity — who called, who’s there. We still want to be connected, but we want to monitor our connections and respond only if we want or if it’s likely best.

As technology continues to interweave and become integral to our professional and everyday lives, we are more apart of the society online, and in this way not just visitors anymore.

We’re connected in the same sphere and similarly apply the tools available to us in this sphere on more or less a daily basis in order to be productive. We are more engaged online, and maybe for marketers and businesses alike, “users” describe this engagement far better than “visitors.”

And as always, it’s about our level and quality of engagement that’s at the heart of the issue, and what every marketer wants to measure — and every lover wants to know.

How they’re tracking us the users, and when, is another question. We still want control of that, too. And then as users, will we be able to continue using the web freely and equally?

The word “user” continues to illicit more questions about how I think of myself on the internet and how we’ll be measured and assessed in the future.

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Molding my "Approach to Art and the Written Word" by observing color and following light, form, and time. Always learning new ways of working and interacting within local and online communities. Taking in the sights and sounds and making notes.