Square's Jack Dorsey reconsiders the term 'user'

In a blog post, the Twitter co-founder hashes out his beef with the tech vernacular -- most specifically the word "user" -- and rules that Square remove the term from its vocabulary.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read
Screenshot of a CBS News interview with Jack Dorsey in March. Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

One of George Orwell's famous rules of writing is "Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent."

It seems Square's founder and CEO Jack Dorsey was channeling the famous "Animal Farm" writer in a Tumblr blog he penned today. Known for ruminating on concepts and ideas, Dorsey called into question the tech world's use of the word "user."

"It's time for our industry and discipline to reconsider the word 'user,'" he wrote. "We speak about 'user-centric design,' 'user benefit,' 'user experience,' 'active users,' and even 'usernames.' While the intent is to consider people first, the result is a massive abstraction away from real problems people feel on a daily basis."

According to Dorsey, the term "user" came out of the early days of computing and has since evolved into everyday use by Internet companies. "Along the way only a few criticized the term," he wrote, "calling it abstract at best, and derogatory at worst."

Well, Dorsey has had enough of the word and is now completely removing the term from Square's vocabulary. "Customer" will replace "user," and if the company wants to be more specific, it can say "buyer" or "seller."

To set this new rule in stone, Dorsey sent his Square team a letter outlining the elimination of the word "user" and why.

"This may seem like a small and insignificant detail that doesn't matter, but the vernacular and words we use here at Square set a very strong and subtle tone for everything we do," he wrote in the letter. "I expect all of you to make certain our customers are always the first and only focus of all our efforts. If there is an egregious absence of this focus anywhere in the company, tell me and we will correct. If I ever say the word 'user' again, immediately charge me $140."

The elimination of this jargony word from Square's vocabulary surely would make Orwell proud.