WEB101 – Official Thread: Thinking about the Web

Official Thread: Thinking about the Web
The ‘intangible’ nature of much of the technology that we use when we access the Web has led to a wide variety of metaphors being used to describe our interactions there.  Indeed, even that suggestion that there is a ‘there’ – a place we go to – is essentially a metaphorical one.

  1. Do you think of the Web as an ‘Information Superhighway’ or do you think of yourself as ‘Surfing the Web’, or is it a little of both depending on the task and the sites you are accessing?
  2. How do you think these metaphors shape our understanding of the Web? Do you have any alternative metaphors to suggest here?


1. I remember these terms being used to describe the web and what you did on it and with it. I, personally, haven’t referred to the web as the ‘ information superhighway’  for a long time. I still use the expression, “ surfing the web” on occasion though.

2. Just as was suggested in the lecture, the term ‘information superhighway’ sounds more static and rigid than ‘surfing the web’. It’s like you were going through layers in a very linear fashion, which I actually recall doing in the early-mid 90s. Then, with the advent of a search engine by the name if Webcrawler, everyone was crawling through the web and its maze, trying to find new things. Lots of metaphors popped in and out – the ocean of information that was the web, and passing through frontiers, and space as a metaphor came up as well. Then, you surfed, jumping around from place to place. Nowadays, a common metaphor I use and hear a lot is about being in the cloud. That imaginative place out there somewhere in cyberspace that you can magically tap into from wherever you choose.

So many expressions have been used to describe the act of accessing the web over the years:

  • tapping into
  • libraries and books – cross-referencing, interlinking information
  • travelling words, navigation, back-tracking, route, destination, etc.
  • filing cabinet / storage
  • levels / hierarchies
  • broad and narrow searching, widening your search, Boolean operators
  • flow of information
  • feed (like the web “feeds” me information)
  • plugging into the web
  • pull and push technologies
  • branches of a tree
  • rhizome
  • amorphous and hovering, as in “the cloud”, which is my current favourite


Hi Maha,

Thanks for this – that’s a great list of terms and metaphors used to describe different online activities and functions! You raise a great point too about the importance of spatial metaphors here – we’re used to the physical world where we can see how different parts are connected and relate to one another, but the connections aren’t always visible online so we use metaphors to make sense of this unknown space. Based on your experience and the list provided, do you find that some metaphors are more successful/popular than others? Why might this be the case?


Personally, I find that the following terms/metaphors more successful (in order of preference):

  • rhizomatic
  • cloud
  • tapping into
  • navigation
  • flow

All of these suggest an, at times, static information resource that evolves and eventually shifts or metamorphs into something else. They evoke the imagery of going places, infinity, floating or jumping around and consistently growing or changing. I’d be curious to read which terms others in the group are appealing and why.

The World Wide Web has changed so much since I started using it in the early 90s, and witnessing its evolution over this time period, I find these terms to be the most accurate – as you mentioned in your post, “to make sense of this unknown space”.

I can also think of a Pixar character I always conjured up in my head when thinking about using the Web… Buzz Lightyear, from Toy Story, whose favourite catch-phrase was “To infinity and beyond!”

Furthermore, I think these terms/metaphors are interchangeable depending on one’s use of the internet.  I like Tim’s comment below about having the world in his pocket. I, too, have it in my pocket, my workbag, my desk, my workstation…

Like others’ comments in this thread, I also use the Web for banking, paying bills, socialising, working, exploring and personal interests and any other daily-life functions we have transferred to the online environment.

Personally, I’m dying to try Google Glass and have it on my face! The current and potential uses of AR excite me enormously, and I increasingly see this being a part of our everyday lives too. Some of you may have seen the film, Minority Report, written by Philip K. Dick, where people are easily detected everywhere they go with retinal scans and surveillance cameras. This is a scary thought, but, at present, an exciting one too. If it is used for good and creativity instead of evil, truly amazing. (FYI – the cynic in me somehow believe this not to be the future for us.)

A You Tube video I often refer to in my classes about Google might make people think differently about where we might all end up: ABC’s Hungry Beast – Google (This video is a few years old now, but still highly pertinent – Google Buzz has been replaced by Google+)

I guess that’s why I’m fascinated by writers such as Orwell (1984) and Huxley (Brave New World), as they were pretty close to the mark – we are currently experiencing a world that they envisioned in their infamous works. The philosopher in me really enjoyed The Matrix as a film as well – examining the increasingly blurry line between what is real and what is not.

Interesting, isn’t it? It seems like a simple question at first, but when one digs a little deeper…

Maha…   Smile


About Maha @ Uni

Studying online, and want to keep a record of my progress and experiences...
This entry was posted in ABC Hungry Beast, Cloud Computing, George Orwell, Google, Information Superhighway, Philip K. Dick, Surfing the Web, Web Metaphors and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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