One word that always causes me to shudder: ‘Content.’ This is now apparently the standard word that people in the software industry use to refer to that which is created and owned by their users.

To me it’s just the latest horrible, bland, meaningless MBA word. Except it’s not. Like all words, ‘content’ implies something about that which it refers to: that it’s irrelevant and doesn’t matter, that anything would do in its place. Content is what you put in a box so that the box is no longer empty, it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s just there to fill the box.

Sure, as software people you’re all very proud of your box. You’ve put a lot of effort into making your box very pretty, and emergent, and Web 2.0, and now you just need something to fill it up. When all you do is build boxes it’s very easy to only see boxes.

Well, guess what? Your users don’t even notice the box. That content that you regard as interchangeable filling is all they care about. That’s what they’ve spent time, effort and emotion in creating. They don’t want to just dump it in some box somewhere, they want it treated specially and with respect. Referring to it with some bland management-speak term is not showing respect.

Words matter. The words you use to refer to something shape your perception of it. If you’re in the business of building something where users can display their creations you need to remember that those creative works are the entire purpose of your web site. So don’t refer to it as ‘content’ and then focus on the box. Remember the box don’t exist, and treat your user’s works with respect.

Don’t call it ‘content.’