You may remember last week I provided a short example of using metaphor to give depth and life to some of my otherwise shallow and boring text. I’m not sure I acheived this, but it was a fun exercise for someone like me who likes playing with words. The crucial last step in Sword’s process is to share the reworked sentence with a friend to see if the reworked sentenece works, and to get feedback on how to make it better.

During last week’s class I shared my original text and the various iterations I went through to generate a new sentence using the Dead Letter Office as a metaphor for the HTTP redirect. Just the process of trying to read my text out loud to my classmates was illuminating. I had trouble simply reading it without slipping into a muddled monotone. Fortunately, I have generous and kind classmates who gave me useful advice without ripping the idea to shreds.

The main piece of advice I took from the conversation was to stop trying to achieve parity between the metaphor of the Dead Letter Office and the HTTP redirect. As I gathered more details about the Dead Letter Office (mostly on Wikipedia) I tried to work these facts into the description. I had built up a lot of text and ideas, but hadn’t simplified them using plain language. It felt like I was going down the rabbit hole of talking about Dead Letter Offices instead of redirects. Also, the metaphor was stretched thin: aspects of the work in a DLO didn’t align properly with the redirect, but I tried to force them together anyway.

Kari pointed out that my previous sentence had a one word metaphor that worked quite well:

A more practical solution to minting the perfect URL for your Web resources is to accept that most things change, but to alert people who care when these changes occur.

I’ve used the word mint so many times when discussing URLs because of its use in the semantic web literature. All this time I hadn’t really considered how it operated as a metaphor for financial systems. Kari suggested that I might want to do something similarly understated with the Dead Letter Office metaphor. In the process of working with it I decided to abandon the Dead Letter Office and focus more on a change of address form in the Post Office, which was one of the other options I had brainstormed. It seemed easier to understand and less distracting than the Dead Letter Office:

Think of an HTTP redirect as the forwarding address you give the post office when you move. The post office keeps your change of address on file, and sends mail on to your new address, for a period of time (typically a year). The medium is different but the mechanics are quite similar, as your browser seamlessly follows a redirect from the old location of a document to its new location.

I don’t think I achieved subtlety in this version, but it felt like an improvement, and less contrived. Another thing I incorporated was Diane’s suggestion that I mention how the browser much like the postal system works seamlessly or invisibly. Most of the time you don’t even notice when the link you’ve clicked on actually results in you viewing a document somewhere else. The browser quietly follows the redirects without letting you know.

It was hard to part with the image of the Dead Letter Office. Perhaps it’s the seed of an idea for another time.