Zach Margolis



Monday October 20th, 2008

My life really hasn’t been that interesting lately, so here’s a rant instead.

What in the world does this symbol mean?

So I’d noticed this symbol on a bunch of sites, indicating “sharing.” First, I saw it on Viddler (and then somewhere else, but I can’t seem to recall where). A search for “share icon” revealed that this is a product of the Share Icon Project. Good for them, they’ve created an open source icon meant for everyone to use.

However, I wish they’d shared some other icon. I mean, seriously? I had to look for the tooltip on that icon like five times before I figured out that it was “share.” Honestly, it looks like a sideways V to me. As a mnemonic device, I figured it was one person on the left sharing with two people on the right. Ok, cool. But why wasn’t that obvious from the start? The idea of an icon is that you can get it with no training whatsoever.

I understand that sharing is a tough abstract concept to make a small little icon out of, and I might not be able to do any better myself. (It’s just like that scene from the Simpsons where Milhouse’s dad tries to draw ‘dignity’ for pictionary, fails, and then is shown up by Milhouse’s mom.) I also understand the idea that if more people use it, then more people will get it, and the icon will become part of our visual lexicon. It could snowball, right? I don’t mind if a good icon snowballs, but this feels like just a placeholder.

The site’s creators liken this to the RSS icon and the OPML icon. OK, I see where they’re going, they are releasing the design for an icon that can be incorporated anywhere, like the RSS icon. But wait, what the hell is OPML? The Share Icon guys present it as an icon that looks like a circle with a dot in the middle, or...oh wait, a bullseye. So that means OPML is a target of some sort, right? Another quick search reveals that OPML, or Outline Processor Markup Language, is an XML file format for outlines. So the icon should be some sort of list, not an abstract circle. Off the top of my head, I would make it four horizontal lines, the bottom three indented, like an outline.

My problem is not with free icons for people to use, share and create standards with. I mean, I love the RSS icon. It makes sense, you’re broadcasting stuff with, and it’s dispersing (just like in the icon!). I even use it proudly on my own feed—no need to reinvent the wheel. The problem is that the Share and OPML icons suck. I applaud the effort of organizations like those for trying to give back and all that, but I do not want to support the effort of icons like theirs that mean nothing.

The world is filled with strange icons. Take the “save” icon, for example. It’s another abstract concept, usually a floppy disk. Back in the days of the original Macintosh the only way to save personal data was with a floppy, hence “save.” Great, but who still uses those? Unfortunately, by the the time floppy disks lost favor, the icon had already been used everywhere and we are stuck with an anachronistic icon. I would call for change, but I don’t know if its worth the effort. The “share” icon is still nascent and I would like to see something different while we still have the option.

I’ll keep pondering sharing over the next few weeks and see if I can come up with something better so that I’m not just another whiny blogger. (I’d rather be a whiny blogger who can walk the walk.) Sorry guys, I really hate your sideways V.

Tags: life ramblings


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