The Problem with Metaphors

In the short note “The Problem with Metaphors” in Dream Machines, Ted Nelson writes:

“…a bunch of windows on the screen is called a “desktop metaphor”, since it looks to some people like paper on a desk. […]What matters is the best way to detail the virtuality, not finding a relationship to anything that came before. The best new virtualities will have no antecedents.” (p.69)

In 2005 Peter Morville unmasks the Navigaton metaphor* on the web as limiting and counterproductive in his book Ambient Findability. There is “no there there” and thats why there is no sense in drawing a map the web. Web maps are popular as subway map style posters or as interactive dots connected with thin lines in the form of a flash animation. But they do not give more than pretty pictures.

Morvile claims:

“The exploration of new metaphors and the courage to design beyond metaphor are both critical in innovation in web design.” (p.38)

* Morville mentions a research from 1998: Metaphors We Surf the Web By (PDF) by P. Maglio and T. Matlock. Back then, in hope for more spatially rich navigation experience, they concluded : “Both experienced and unexperienced users talk about the web as if they are moving toward information, rather than as if information is moving toward them. […] The trick lies in discovering the conceptual differences between real space and cyberspace, and then in using those differences to make the boundary apparent.”

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