If you read this blog with any regularity, you’ll know I’m a bit of a metaphor junkie: the name itself stems from that love, and I’ve even performed on stage extolling their virtues.

Now with analogy there is always a risk that one will descend into Swiss Toni territory, where using metaphor, analogy and simile becomes a lot like “making love to a beautiful woman”. But then there are occasional metaphors that I come across in the tech industry that are just plain daft; something that just doesn’t work, and yet has become accepted. The trouble with this is that an analogy is a powerful way to explain something to someone who doesn’t know about the concept, but if the metaphor is duff then rather than offering clarity the language used can just further complicate issues.

Last night I was reading some stories to my kids at bedtime. We entered into fairytale territory, and I read Hansel and Gretel to them, a loose and somewhat dumbed-down version of the Brothers Grimm classic. If you don’t know the story, the salient points for now are that two kids (Hansel and Gretel) are twice led into a forest to be abandoned by their father (himself a victim of domestic abuse by his wife, the kids’ stepmother). The first time around Hansel leaves a trail of pebbles as they head out into the forest, and as a result is able to retrace their route back to the family house. The second time around he leaves a trail of breadcrumbs, but on attempting to return, the kids find that the crumbs have been eaten by birds and they stay lost in the depths of the woods as a result. Bad things then happen.

So why, then, has the world of web navigation decided that a “breadcrumb trail” is an appropriate name for the way in which some systems give you a list of the places you have been to enable navigation back to places you’ve come from? (You know the sort of thing – “Home > A pit of despair > Customer Service > Contact us”)

Surely it should be a pebble trail?

One thought on “Crap Tech Industry Metaphors: 1. Breadcrumb Trails

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