This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.Lincoln
WSJ award acceptance speech
Every single one of us on this planet has an opportunity to make a positive impact in this world, and I’m proud and humbled by the millions of people who chose to use Twitter and Square daily to do exactly that.
Our single greatest innovation however, was recognizing that they could do a better job innovating than us.
They, and they alone, turned two simple ideas, telling your story in 140 characters, or accepting credit cards, into a global movement of individual empowerment. And that’s an innovation to be proud of.
Let’s reconsider our “users”
1. A person who uses or operates something, esp. a computer or other machine.
2. A person who takes illegal drugs; a drug user.
During a Square Board meeting, our newest Director Howard Schultz, pulled me aside and asked a simple question.
“Why do you all call your customers ‘users’?”
“I don’t know. We’ve always called them that.”
It wasn’t something I’ve thought about for some time. The term “user” made its appearance in computing at the dawn of shared terminals (multiple people sharing time slices of one computing resource). It was solidified in hacker culture as a person who wasn’t technical or creative, someone who just used resources and wasn’t able to make or produce anything (often called a “luser”). And finally, it was made concrete by Internet companies whose business models depended on two discrete classes of usage, a paying customer (often purchasing ads) and a non-paying consumer (subsidized by viewing the ads). Along the way only a few criticized the term, calling it abstract at best, and derogatory at worst.
It’s time for our industry and discipline to reconsider the word “user.” 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. An abstraction away from simply building something you would love to see in the world, and the hope that others desire the same.
At Square we’re removing the term “users” from our vocabulary, replacing it with “customers”, and the more specific “buyers”, and “sellers.” The word customer, given its history, immediately sets a high bar on the level of service we must provide, or risk losing their attention or business. Below is a letter I sent the team after that Board meeting explaining why. It’s a start (we’re not done yet).
To everyone in the technology industry: I encourage you to reconsider the word “user” and what you call the people who love what you’ve created, starting with yourselves.
I was reminded of something today which has always bothered me, which I have since taken for granted.
The entire technology industry uses the word “user” to describe its customers. While it might be convenient, “users” is a rather passive and abstract word. No one wants to be thought of as a “user” (or “consumer” for that matter). I certainly don’t. And I wouldn’t consider my mom a “user” either, she’s my mom. The word “user” abstracts the actual individual. 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. So let’s now part ways with our industry and rethink this.
The word “customer” is a much more active and bolder word. It’s honest and direct. It immediately suggests a relationship we must deliver on. And our customers think of their customers in the same way.
We have two types of customers: sellers and buyers. So when we need to be more specific, we’ll use one of those two words.
The other thing that has surfaced in a number of my 1:1s is that we have become a bit abstract and distanced from our customers. Simply: we don’t talk about them enough. So, we’re going to do two things.
First, I’m going to work with the support team to surface top issues at every Town Square instead of just CS inquiries per transaction percentages. And on our information radiators. We must feel our customer’s issues every day.
Second, all of our work is in service of our customers. Period. Therefore, we better damn well mention them in every conversation, review, meeting, goal, etc. 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.
From this moment forward, let’s stop distancing ourselves from the people that choose our products over our competitors. We don’t have users, we have customers we earn. They deserve our utmost respect, focus, and service. Because that’s who we are.
Notes on my work at Twitter
There was a great profile in the New York Times about Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo, which mentioned my work at the company. It’s not a common arrangement, so I’d like to clarify a few points.
In Spring of 2011, Dick asked me to take an operational role overseeing product, design, and brand. Our shared goal was to get those organizations back under him as soon as possible, simply because it was the right thing to do for the company. We moved all of my reports back under him in January of this year after leadership was firmly in place. This allowed me to focus on refining our brand and logo, to work more with Dick and the leadership team on our direction forward, and ultimately return the majority of my time to Square, where I’m CEO. I’m back to going to Twitter on Tuesday afternoons, something I started before taking the interim operational role.
We haven’t talked about this publicly because it’s not what people using Twitter every day care about.
I’m fortunate in life to be a part of two foundational and mission-driven organizations, and I’m always going to fight like hell to make them thrive. And they are! Now back to our work.
3/21/2006 12:37PM-1:01PM, first tweet and inviting coworkers
- me: okay. i'm going to delete everyone, then invite you.
- Biz: okay sounds good
- okay, that worked!
- me: nice. now, don't invite anyone yet.
- Biz: changing your name needs to be more obvious
- me: it didn't ask you to signup?
- oh, dang. that's a bug.
- Biz: no. okay cool!
- me: did it just go down for you?
- Biz: yah
- me: should be back up.
- i'm going to delete you again, and have you go through the process again.
- Biz: okay
- me: okay. try that.
- it's cool. i can follow your number right away.
- so once you update, i get something.
- Biz: okay hold on
- got an error
- gonna try again
- me: what error?
- Biz: application error when I pressed "done" on the name/pin page
- quitting browser trying again
- hmm still getting it
- is it cause i already been here?
- me: let me look.
- oh, i see the problem. i'll fix it.
- Biz: ok
- me: okay, try now. same pin
- Biz: ok
- so easy and smooth
- me: nice!
- what do you think about that sms invite message for now
- Biz: thats gotta be the easiest invite sign up ever
- message is good
- me: wanted to start inviting the odeo people, and had to put in the user/pass
- is that clear?
- Biz: yah
- me: cool. okay. now we can start the invites :)
- Biz: awesome
- how should we do it?
- willy nilly?
- me: yeah!
- Biz: okay!
3/21/2006 12:04PM, first test of SMS
- Biz: just got your status on my phone!
- watson, come in here please!
- me: nice! update yours
- i'm following
- Biz: hey, that makes me think of a good tagline for twitter
- "do you follow me?"
- me: got it!
- i was thinking of that last night!
- Biz: that is good stuff
- me: i'm going to hook up the invite system.
- Biz: sweet baby jesus
- : P
- me: then, we have to figure out the sms in stuff. just have to work out permissions at this point
- Biz: ok
- me: do you remember what the invite sms said? the one with the pin? i've lost the graffle file.
- Biz: was it
- ev: waiting for you to go to twttr.com and enter your PIN: 4013
- i think that was it
- me: oh yeah. what about when you're coming in cold from the site?
- Biz: hold on
- did we do that one?
- it could be the same one
- but from twitter
- instead of ev
- me: yeah. cool. okay. don't invite anyone yet. let me get this in first.
- Biz: ok
- me: hey there biz
- Biz: yello
- me: try to quit your browser, and then load up sms.odeo.com again
- Biz: ok
- I'm in
- me: try adding me: 4159630000
- Biz: it worked
- my number shows up instead of my name
- me: gotta change your prefs
- Biz: my name is biz in prefs
- lemme try again
- me: really?
- Biz: well, it was in there
- but i just clicked "done" anyway and that worked
- me: now i see you.
- Biz: yah
- me: yeah, we had to delete some things to start over.
- Biz: 4154200000 is drunk
- me: jeremy
- oh, dang. i probably shouldn't be showing phone numbers in the global list. oops!
- Biz: oh yah
- /account/profile/1: just setting up my twttr
- somebody's name is
- * /account/profile/1
- me: yeah, that's a bug
- Biz: we should make the little world icon click to all public updates
- me: good point
- Biz: this is ballzy
- me: ! i'm getting sms send in there right now
- meaning we should be able to follow each other via sms soon
- Biz: awesome!
- me: i'm getting sms sending out right now
- csshsh: oh! yeah?
- does it work well so far?
- me: yeah, about to deploy it. soon. have to figure out a better way to abstract it. for now, it's in the user model.
- csshsh: okay..
- i will take a look at it, in a bit.. maybe i have some ideas..
- okay.. quick ideas..
- i would put the sms class in app/models
- it's part of the domain model..
- me: a new sms model?
- csshsh: na. i would move the one that currently is in lib into app/models
- me: really?
- csshsh: and as far as testing goes, i would just stub out the send method
- yep.. it really is part of the domain model of twttr
- some people think that only objects that inherit from ActiveRecord: :Base should go there. but thats not true..
- an sms is as much part of the domain model as user, status, etc
- me: hrm. yeah, that class really needs to be worked on. i guess we should put the sms char limits in there as well.
- csshsh: ah. yeah. true..
- it's gonna be so nice to try out the sms implementation =)
- me: yeah!
- it's working now.
- csshsh: nice!!
- me: Jeremy! How do I run a migration on guerrero? and what is the password for sms.odeo.com and staging-sms.odeo.com?
- on mission rake deploy
- make sure the database.yaml_staging is pointed at brannan
- oh, and su - oadmin
- me: i'm getting an application error there, and not sure why.
- Jeremy: after scrum?
- me: can i get access to the logs on guerrerro?
- Jeremy: or now?
- me: yeah
- Jeremy: which?
- me: anytime
- Jeremy: ok now
- Jeremy: you have sudo on guerrero now
- the rails log is in /var/log/user.log
- apache logs to /var/log/apache2/access.log (and error log)
- me: could you reset my password? it doesn't seem to be working
- Jeremy: this will be changing, as apache will be logging everything to syslog, and all logs will end up in the /var/log/remote/$HOST directory on valencia starting tomorrow or friday at the lasted
- me: thanks!