One of the things this project has taught me is that metaphor is really important: talking about the Internet as a place had very real impacts on copyright law, user interface design, and our expectations about the impact the Internet would have on the future. So shifts in metaphors matter too.

One of the things I've been paying attention to is the growing popular use of the term "cloud" to describe the Web. Usually this is in the context of some service that's migrated from the desktop to the Web, and the implication is that said service– your address book, word processor, calendar, what have you– no longer is chained to your desktop, but it accessible from any devices through "the cloud."

Today I noticed that Google Docs doesn't have a clipboard; instead, it has a "Web clipboard."

webclipboard.jpg

Notice that the Web clipboard isn't a conventional clipboard icon, but a clipboard with a cloud in front of it.

Now, there's a lot of incongruity in this icon. The combination of cloud + clipboard not exactly consistent: you can't attach a cloud to a clipboard, nor do you normally see clipboards rising in the sky.

Yet if you know that cloud = Web, it makes sense. Cloud + clipboard = "Web clipboard." But in order for it to work, you need to be reasonably familiar with the idea of the Web as a cloud. Not a place, but a cloud– something that floats around in the sky, visible from anywhere. Google's icon designers are assuming that people are familiar enough with the cloud = Web equation to make its use uncontroversial. Another step away from cyberspace as place.