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How Do Open Source Developers Talk about Users?

Andrew J. Ko and Parmit K. Chilana
Information School
University of Washington

When open source software developers are making design decisions, how do they talk about users? To begin to answer this question, 100 contentious Firefox bug reports were analyzed for distinct uses of the word “user.” The results show that developers use authoritative words (such as allow, educate, and require) to describe what software does for users. Most statements involved confident speculation about what users need, expect and do, whereas a minority of statements demanded evidence for such unsubstantiated claims. The results also show that when describing users, developers describe them in general terms, rather than referring to particular uses cases or user populations. These results suggest that, at least in the broader Firefox developer community, developers rely largely on stereotype and instinct to understanding user needs.  communities have begun to form dedicated user research teams in order to improve the user experience of their software. 

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