For a while now I’ve been uncomfortable with the words user and content, and with the phrase user-generated content. But although produced or created are almost certainly better generic terms than generated, I’ll admit that I’ve failed to come up with a generic alternative to user or content (a bullshit word as Doc Searls rightly notes).
The commentary attached to Jimmy Guterman’s recent plea — Don’t call me a user! — has convinced me that there may not be superior generic alternatives. But several of the comments there reach the same conclusion that I have. Use the generic terms when necessary. But wherever possible, be more specific. The word user connotes a role, but so does member or contributor or participant and, even more specifically, writer or photographer or indexer or webjay.
The latter is a complete neologism, of course, but note the effect that it had at webjay.org. The reflex would have been to say things like “OddioKatya is my favorite Webjay user.” But because the term webjay was so active and so evocative — a DJ for the web — it became natural to simply say “OddioKatya is my favorite webjay.”
Likewise content. Because a more distinctive and evocative term was available — playlist — you’d never think of saying “I love OddioKatya’s content.” Instead you’d say “I love OddioKatya’s playlists.”
While we’re at it, webjays are not generators of playlists, they are curators of them. This isn’t just pedantry. Language governs thought, and when we enrich our language we enrich our individual and shared mental lives. With evocative and precise vocabulary, we can imagine more and accomplish better.