I’ve been steadily making progress on my current project for about 8 weeks now, and I find myself writing a lot about the people who use digital public history websites and applications. The problem is, I can’t figure out what to call those people.
The traditional options include user, visitor, and audience. To me, user and visitor seem unnecessarily vague, but audience is even worse because it bakes in a sense of passive reception that just doesn’t reflect reality when so much of the web is interactive and participatory.
Given this dissatisfaction, I turned to the OED thesaurus for a little inspiration. Sadly, I found none.
- user: handler; utilizer
- visitor: comer; repairer; resorter; visitant; guest; caller
- audience: spectators; listeners; viewers; onlookers
There are several other options that arise when we consider the idea that we might want to create dialogic experiences with our digital public history work:
- community member
Of these, I like community member best, but that doesn’t leave much room for the notion of reaching new people who might not already be invested in the work.
In the course of a twitter conversation, Tom Scheinfeldt suggested that he is trying to use “people-first” constructions: people who engage with the site; people who contribute content; etc. That definitely has some appeal — to talk about what people do, rather than who they are — but I worry that it’s too easy to lose the essential role that social context plays in shaping the ways that those people interact with work.
So, I offer this question to the wisdom of the crowd (another term I don’t like).
How should we refer to the people who engage with our digital public history work?