“We’re now into a new metaphor for the web,” Kelly says noting that we started with the desktop on computers, then pages for the web. Now the realtime stream connected to the web is the thing

I know that a metaphor is a writing technique. But two things should have some common characterstics so that one can be a metaphor of another. Is "the realtime stream" a metaphor of the web ?


A metaphor is a word or phrase that stands in for another word or phrase because of some shared characteristic.

Many of the terms used in computers, and especially in user interfaces, are actually metaphors, though we do not often think of them this way.

In particular "Desktop" is a metaphor: your desktop on your computer is not a desktop (on which you could place papers, books, phones, coffee cups, plants etc), but it is used in something of the same way.

  • But we usually call the 'desktop' an icon of desktop. not a metaphor of desktop. – lovespring Apr 13 '11 at 11:34
  • @lovespring: I'm afraid I don't know what you mean. To me an "icon" (in the computer world) is a symbol or image used to represent something. The representation may be metaphorical (eg using a waste-bin to represent where you put things to delete them, or a pencil for 'edit') or it may be purely arbitrary. I don't know what you mean by "an icon of desktop". – Colin Fine Apr 13 '11 at 12:14

Metaphor is not a writing technique. It is a mechanism for conceptualization. (Which is not to say that it isn't used in writing, but that's flogging a dead horse of a different color.)

Here, as anywhere else, a metaphor is making use of a concept which is presumably well understood to the Reader/Listener to communicate a concept which is presumed to be unfamiliar or unknown.

"Common characteristics" is a bit misleading. "Comparable characteristics" might be closer to the mark.

Pre-computer, a person organized their work (documents, etc) on their physical desktop. Calling the main presentation screen of a GUI "the Desktop" was expected to make it "easy to relate to".

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