Users, Customers, and Consumers

I’ve been working in the IT business for a very long time. I started as a computer operator on main frames and super computers as an undergrad, and even had a home computer years before that (and long before home computers were normal). With that preface, I started thinking recently about the terminology that is used to describe the people who benefit from the code we right. Over the last week, I’ve heard all of the above terms used again. And I started thinking – what does this mean? Are there really different audiences? To that end, I am going to define the terms above, and see if they resonate.

Users:
Originally, there were two types of people when it came to computers – programmers and users. Programmers wrote code and enjoyed hacking around with the hardware and software. A user ran the programs to benefit from the code which was written. A Super User was someone who understood the ins and outs, perhaps even hacked the program some to use it for unapproved purposes. They even wrote scripts (crossing into the world of programmer). But given the early adoption of computers in homes, a user had to have basic knowledge of tape drives (yes I used to have a cassette interface on my first computer), how to connect it all up, etc. In the very early days, users even typed in the code from magazines so they could use their computer.

Customers:
After a while, you could go to the store and buy software on cartridges, floppy disks, and even CD’s. If someone bought the software there were a customer. You needed customers to make software, because they pay the bills. Customers pay more for things they want and enjoy, and as such you listen to your customers and open a dialog via forums, blogs, etc. So customer are good.

Consumers:
So what is a consumer and how are they different then users? Obviously a consumer is someone who “consumes’ you app. Hopefully they use it. And even more importantly, hopefully they pay you so you can keep making cool stuff. But, let’s face it, many consumers expect apps to be free. They want to consume the service, but don’t want to pay for it. The way you monitize your work, is top sell ads to that consumer. So in all aspects a consumer is actually another part of your product (if they don’t pay for it), and they become an asset to the people who pay for your work (now the advertising service). So your customer becomes the advertiser, and the consumer is your user. While financially this makes sense, you still have to make the application experience even better so that the user wants to consume the application even more. I think this is even more challenging thank just focusing on your customer.

About Michael

I created this site to help showcase the mobile application community in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina.
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