Many websites refer to people who sign up as 'users', which may be considered a bit derogatory; these people also participate, they don't just use the site.

In Russian, MediaWiki (the software that powers Wikipedia, Wikinews, Commons and sister projects) calls these people 'Участник', which literally is 'one who participates' [as a website user, and as a writer, as a reader, as whatever else you like; not as formal, active, or involved as 'participant' term expects]. What English language term is equivalent?

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    I think this is Primarily Opinion-based. So there's a second opinion to go with OP's subjective opinion that users "is a bit derogatory". I'm a user of/at ELU; I don't feel that's a demeaning description. Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 3:13
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    @FumbleFingers: the question is not "do you think it is derogatory"; it is "some find it derogatory, what are the alternatives?".
    – user15373
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 3:14
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    I think your premise is not well-founded in English. 'User' is not in any way derogatory or even depersonalizing. And if it is, so is any alternative. Also, this is not a bilingual site, so it would be unrealistically optimistic to expect that someone knows Russian well enough to translate that one particular word into English (and most likely there won't be a single English word that captures all that you want of it). Except for maybe one of the mods.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 3:59
  • User can be derogatory in some contexts. It can be a synonym for exploiter ("a user of women"), and it can be shorthand for a drug abuser. That said, while it's not the friendliest word in the world, user is sufficiently entrenched in computer and Internet lingo that audiences are probably unlikely to take full-fledged offense.
    – phenry
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 17:35
  • "derogatory" or "un-humane" may not be the best exact description. But the fact is that "user" is a bit .. "unfriendly". It makes, err, users feel like they are being treated "technically" or "en masse" or "like a number". It is, indeed, totally commonplace that in marketing meetings of dotcoms they agonise over what to call, well, users, logged-in people, since "user" sucks and is a technical-origin term. So it's a great question with no good answer.
    – Fattie
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 9:30

3 Answers 3


User is a technical term that derives from the basic functionality of server access. Way back in the days when a computer was a big box in a room you connected to via remote console, you were literally "using" that hardware as a service you (or your school / employer) paid for.

If you find that the term is slightly objectionable and want to avoid it, you should choose a term based on the basic level of participation you expect. (Internally, your programs would mark this as a "user role", but that's a different topic.)

Some random examples:

  1. A collaborative encyclopedia could have contributors, editors, or authors.
  2. A social media site could have clients, customers, or members.
  3. A site for some game could have players or fans.
  • For (1), these terms will be confusing. Some people log in to be able to set a custom theme, not to contribute. (Although I like the term 'contributor' most so far.)
    – user15373
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 5:00
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    I'd add associate, affiliate, and participant to those lists, in other contexts. Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 5:55
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    contributors, editors, authors, clients, customers, members, players, fans, associates, affiliates, and participants are ALL correctly and formally, website visitors, but informal users. Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 6:00
  • I don't accept your defintion of "user". Way back in the day, I was writing and supporting software for users on 8-bit hardware running CP/M, almost none of which was networked. In most contexts, "user" was and still is primarily a person who uses [some particular] software [for some particular purpose]. It's largely incidental that the software needs a bit of tin to run on. Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 12:28
  • Sometimes "end-user" can be useful (depending on where you are in the production process). Also "visitor", "guest", "member" etc. But it's an excellent point that "user" is the best tern, but sounds a bit harsh. @Fumble -- nobody, at all, care about what the 2 or 3 humans on the planet (you, me and someone else :) ) who understand operating systems, think words mean. it's no more relevant than if someone asked what a "pearl" is and the programming language came to mind for you. it's totally irrelevant. For 10 billion people "user" means "you have an account on a web site thingy".
    – Fattie
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 9:28

"Member" is common, because it encourages users to feel that their status as a user is important.


A more polite, formal and perfectly acceptable word is "visitor" - which I believe is what you are looking for.

In the same way eateries (restaurants & hotels) refer to their 'clients' as 'guests', you'll find websites refer to their users as visitors, regardless of whether they have signed up or not.

Users have computer 'usage'. Website visitors make visits which are the statistically useful. Visitors can be new or returning. Since users browse many sites, they are always just visiting.

"This is what DigiWongaDude, a regular visitor to the site, had to say." - formal, personal.

"Facebook users have been up in arms lately." - impersonal, informal.

User and visitor, therefore, are interchangeable for formal & informal, personal & impersonal generic use.

A visitor is just as generic a term as a user, but it is specific to websites. Users, on the other hand, are not specifically online. A website "member" or "guest" is a type of visitor, that has signed up or is just browsing.

  • "Visitor" has a distinctly different meaning when compared to "user." Also, several of your points don't currently seem to be backed up; Can you provide references for your claims that "user" cannot be used in a formal context, and that "vistor" is generally used formally?
    – user867
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 6:09
  • Visitors = unique people as identified by unique visitor cookies. This part is critical to understand. The __utma cookie contains unique visitor identifier numbers. If the __utma cookie gets deleted, or if the person changes computers or browsers, they won't be tracked as the same "user". (out of here, good day to all). Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 6:13
  • Zoo visitors are not called users. This answer has a point, even if put in poor shape.
    – user15373
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 14:06
  • Good grief Svetlana poor shape? I've been a web developer and internet marketer for the best part of 20 years. I happen to know a little about addressing 'users' with correct etiquette. Website's outwardly strive to encourage 'visitors' and site 'visits', not 'users' and 'usage', which is more like 'back-end' developer speak. These are industry accepted words. I seriously can't believe people are scratching their heads and 'uhm-ing' over this! Now Zoo comparisons? How about car drivers as car users? Ridiculous. You lot work it out. Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 14:18
  • I disagree with visitor being used in website context, but the answer has a meaningful point regarding word usage in the language.
    – user15373
    Commented Feb 1, 2014 at 1:47

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