Thursday, February 11, 2010

one picture is worth combining with a thousand different words

You know what Livejournal has that Blogger, Facebook and Multiply don't? ICONS.

Way back before Livejournal or even the concept of online diary-writing existed, there were books like Terry and Neil's Good Omens and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, which used a device dating back to the medieval practice of illuminated manuscripts: the chapter-heading icon. Illustrations might have been a bit much for these books, but the little pictures that prefaced the chapter were a refreshing break from the walls of grey text, added a touch of interest (and even coolness), and gave you a little hint as to who would be in the next chapter or what might happen. If you saw a quintet of dice, you knew Mat Cauthon was getting himself in trouble again, or if you saw a snake with sunglasses wrapped round a capital letter, you wondered what on earth Anthony Crowley was up to now. (Or in my case, you just squealed 'EEE MAT!' or 'CROWLEY! YAY!' and read eagerly on.)

Icons are great because they're yours, even when someone else made them.* They can convey a general meaning to your friends or readers, while having a much more nuanced (and even different) meaning just for you.

For example, this might mean tea, or it might mean I'm feeling pensive, or maybe I wanted to draw attention to the mild absurdity of a teabag sitting all by itself at a window as if it was lonely or daydreaming. (Or people could attach their own meanings, none of them intended. A friend told me what 'teabagging' was slang for, and I really wish he hadn't.)

So I think I'm going to employ these little pictures from now on. They'll also give readers a clue as to whether I'm saying something they actually want to read, or if it's all babble about Batman and Wonder Woman again.

*in which case you give credit, of course. That said, the teabag photo belongs to Corbis, although I cropped and sized it into an icon. I will credit succeeding icons too. If there's no credit on an icon, it's all mine.

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