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"How do you explain the Internet when you cannot see and touch it?"

"Information is fairly formless, so almost everything we do online we do with some kind of metaphor," —Judith Donat

“The people who get to impose their metaphors on the culture get to define what we consider to be true.” —Lakoff and Johnson

“The metaphors that are used to study an emerging technology usually end up influencing the shape it takes” —Sawhney, 1996

“The initial metaphors basically function as provisional hypotheses which can be held only as long as the facts permit” —Sawhney, 1996

"metaphors “create a 'stereoscopic' vision which allows for simultaneous viewing of an idea from two or more points of view” —Sawhney, 1996

“The cloud's main usefulness lies in its vagueness” —Gibson, 1999

Over the last year, Manetta and I discovered that we both shared an interest for Metaphors applied to the Internet. We realised at the time that everything that we try to talk about when it comes to our online activities, is constantly mediated by metaphors to make these experiences tangible.




Created in 2014 and mainly the work of Daniela C DeMaria
-> -> ->



  • 1994, Network MCI
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"There will be....a road.
It will not connect two will connect ALL points.
Its speed limit will be....the speed of light.
It will not go from here to there....(there WILL BE NO MORE THERE)
There will be no more there...we will all, only, be here..."

  • 2002, BT Broadband
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The internet bursts out of a broadband pipe and invades an ordinary street in London

  • 2014, Western Digital
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WD created a better cloud for a reason and that reason is personal.
So now you can access everything you save from anywhere you are with the cloud we created only for you.
Introducing my cloud, finally a cloud of your own

  • Mooooaaar adverts @Youtube...


  • Hackers, 1995
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  • Johnny Mnemonic, 1995
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  • The Matrix, 1999


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X as if it were Y

As a first attempt to understand metaphors applied to computer networks, Manetta and I started to collect images illustrating domain sources.


We then had a look at them and decided that they could be classified under three categories:
* local and global (context)
* motion and tangible experience (individuality)
* raw material and engineering (economy)

We envisioned the collection like a database, that could be reaccessed through the categories.
These categories tell a data story that every one, with their own subjectivity, can chose to illustrate with the images of their choice.
We ended up crafting three Templates enabling associations and figuring references and thoughouts, alongside a collection of stickers:
Which were for sale at the Yammi ichi in May 2015


A database of metaphors

With Manetta we started building a database listing all the metaphors we could think of, listing references such as dates, authors, source domains and other information that we could gather. This is very much under construction.
Manetta also built an interface for it, converting the spreadsheet into a csv file that can be read by a browser interface.



IBM Translate Data into Epic Visual Language

Last year I scraped ing all the image content from the IBM data magazine in order to map business oriented metaphors for Internet content. Fortunately, the images were named after the title of the article they illustrate and were classified in chronological order.


Last summer I made a quick video draft out of them, reusing the amateuristic-powerpoint aesthetics of these obscure youtube videos for auto hypnosis. (like the ones for explaning to you that you are going to get rich through the power of auto suggestion, etc).
I'm not too sure about it yet but I wanted to emphasis their weird mystifying character.
My apologies for the quality.

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The multiple lives of Cortana

Last year Windows launched Cortana, a new smartphone personal assistant. It took its name as a reference to Cortana, the Artificial Intelligence helping John-117 (a genetically modified Spartan solider) in the sci-Fi military game Halo. Windows also used the services of Jen Taylor, the actress who lended her voice to Cortana for the video games.

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“This Galaxy is vast; its wonders and beauty are almost unfathomable. But the galaxy also hides dark secrets, some of which have lain dormant since the beginning of time itself. There is a danger in secrets, both in seeking and in knowing. Some things are meant to be hidden from view. Some mysteries defy understanding, and sometimes even the things we think we know are untrue. Some secrets should remain untouched.”
— Cortana


The name Cortana (also Curtana or Courtain) is a Latinized form of the Anglo-French curtein, from Latin curtus meaning "shortened." The name is used for a ceremonial type of sword. According to legend, one such weapon was the sword of Ogier the Dane - it bore the inscription "My name is Cortana, of the same steel and temper as Joyeuse and Durendal." Durendal (spelled 'Durandal' in this sense) was the name of an Artificial intelligence in a previous Bungie game, Marathon. This also ties in with Cortana telling John "I am your shield, I am your sword." [1]

Cortana's prime purpose is therefore to serve as a weapon.

Tools and process

  • Etherpad for sharing notes and comments:
This one has been the very first one we used
Going through Martin Dodge's chapter on invisible infrastructures

  • Ethercalc?
Actually not so easy to use...

  • Git
Where we dump all the goodness

  • FFmpeg and wget
For quick editing and easy to use
For content retrieval


- Nunes Mark, Jean Baudrillard in cyberspace, Internet, virtuality and post-modernity, 1995
- Imagining Internet Infrastructures: Spatial Metaphors and Scientific Inscription, Martin Dodge, 2008
- Virtual Reality: Cyber Effects


- A history of metaphors for the internet - "The internet is like a...", , 2014
- Data is the New “___” - Sara M. Watson on the Industrial Metaphors of Big Data, Sara M. Watson, 2015
- SURFING, DROWNING, DIVING - A brief history of inventing New Media, Rex Sorgatz, 2014
- Imagining Internet Infrastructures: Spatial Metaphors and Scientific Inscription, Martin Dodge, 2008
- Apple's iOS 7 Redefines Industrial Design Through "Evil" Skeuomorphism, Austin Carr, 2013
- The Myth of Metaphor, Alan Cooper, 1995
- Danger! Metaphors at Work in Economics, Geophysiology, and the Internet, Sally Wyatt, 2004
- Transcoding the Digital, How Metaphors Matter in New Media, Marianne van den Boomen, 2014
- Movie Magic - Virtual Reality: Cyber Effects Pt.1, Discovery channel, date?
- The land that the Internet era forgot, W. Ralph Eubanks, 2015