Tag Archives: default

Terminology (part 2)

Microsoft has been quite instrumental in introducing industry standard terms and practices in their software that are now ubiquitous. Launch any Windows-compatible software package, for example, and you instantly know how to navigate within the application because you will recognize the Windows look-and-feel as well as terms used throughout. You also expect certain behaviors; you expect to see a floating menu when you right-click your mouse for instance.


Wizards and defaults and things
Using a wizard to install a software package is a normal occurrence, and while doing so you will see fields capturing default values that the software creator(s) have defined as being the optimal values/locations/settings for most users. But have you looked up these terms in a dictionary recently? The original meaning of the word wizard was a reference to a person that exhibited magical powers, while the original meaning of the word default was a type of failure (failure to act, failure to meet a financial debt etc.).

Remember how, a few short years ago, if someone asked you for a URL your reply started with “h t t p colon backslash backslash”? Not only has technology given new definitions to existing words but it has morphed our usage of those words over time. Presumably when first utilized, the terms wizard and default seemed strange and out of place and are now entrenched in the vernacular.


And the relevance of all this is?
You might be wondering about the relevance of all this is, and it ties back to that interesting experience during a meeting at work yesterday regarding terminology usage. Basically, the discussion involved the term attachments, which is used to refer to read-only content that is associated in some way to another item within software (a photograph that is attached to an email, for example). After the person demonstrating a new software application being evaluated for deployment explained how attachments would be editable within the software the conversation quickly changed to how a new term was needed for such media, as the term attachments refers to content that is read-only in nature and that must first be downloaded before it can be modified.

It was a bizarre discussion of sorts but it illustrated the strength of the mental model that is associated with the term attachments. The concept of making an attachment editable seemed to border on heresy while simultaneously opening a can of worms. The situation gave me a brief peek into how difficult it can be to modify a standard industry term to augment its scope of meaning.



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