User Illusions

Whether we’re creating strategy and messaging, designing an interface, or building an app here at Maark, the user is our guiding light. At least, what has traditionally been called the “user.” It’s a loaded term and there have been entire schools of thought and library shelves of books dedicated to those four letters.

Here’s a recent paper by Olia Lialina called Turing Complete User that does a great job of succinctly covering the history fo the term “user” and the shift away from it to more personal terms. She then posits that we might not want to move too far away from the term.

We need to take care of this word because addressing people and not users hides the existence of two classes of people—developers and users. And if we lose this distinction, users may lose their rights and the opportunity to protect them. These rights are to demand better software, the ability “to choose none of the above”, to delete your files, to get your files back, to fail epically and, back to the fundamental one, to see the computer.

She also talks about the general purpose user, or “Turing Complete User” as part of her framing of that idea:

General Purpose Users can write an article in their e-mail client, layout their business card in Excel and shave in front of a web cam. They can also find a way to publish photos online without flickr, tweet without twitter, like without facebook, make a black frame around pictures without instagram, remove a black frame from an instagram picture and even wake up at 7:00 without a “wake up at 7:00” app.

It’s a long, thought-provoking read and worth it for anybody in the space.

Photo credit: ~dgies, Flickr.