Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Hello Bright Red Line

Thursday, May 27, 2021
By dreeves

A bee dressed as Elton John looking out at a yellow brick road

I believe this is our first blog post with a theme song. Remember last year when we replaced Beeminder’s Yellow Brick Road with a so-called Yellow Brick Half-Plane? The idea was that instead of a line on your graph to your goal and a band on either side of the line to keep your datapoints on, we instead have just a single bright line that you can’t cross. [1] We went out of our way to preserve a yellow band next to the Bright Red Line so that we could keep referring to “the Yellow Brick Road”. But it has gradually felt more and more anachronistic and we finally decided to rip off the band-aid.

Graph with a bright red line We’re systematically replacing every mention of “yellow brick road” with “bright red line”. [2]

The main tagline has changed from “Follow your Yellow Brick Road” to “Mind the Bright Red Line” [3] and the road dial has become the commitment dial [4] and in hundreds of other places we’ve made changes like “make sure you stay on the Yellow Brick Road that you’ve set for yourself” to “make sure you don’t cross the bright red line that you’ve set for yourself”.


Runners Up for “Yellow Brick Road” Replacements

Just in case you’re curious, here’s everything we even briefly considered.

  • Beeline
  • Sting Line
  • Rail
  • Fence
  • Due-by Line
  • Derailment Line
  • Commitment Line
  • Razor’s Edge (Razor for short)
  • Borderline
  • Bright Line
  • Border
  • Line of Doom
  • B-line (evocative of bright line / border line as well as Beeminder line)
  • Bee Lane
  • Red Rail
  • Money Line
  • Cliff
  • Skate Line
  • y(t) (pronounced “y of t”)


As you can see, we agonized about this plenty and talked to a lot of you all, of course (thank you!). [5] For a while it looked like we’d go with “beeline”, which is indeed dang cute. I know it’s uncharacteristic for me to eschew a jargon-y neologism in favor of a boring descriptive phrase. But I kept experimenting with the terminology and “bright red line” kept feeling most natural.

Onomastic Interlude

Often it’s worth introducing jargon because the plain English version is, ironically, too understandable. I know that sounds ridiculous but that’s because you’re not understanding me yet. The epiphany for me was the following quote, tenuously attributed to George Bernard Shaw:

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

If you say, for example, “max safety buffer” then users, understanding each of those words, will jump to the conclusion that they understand the phrase. But “autoratchet” means something very specific in Beeminderland and it’s less confusing for users to hear “autoratchet” and know that they don’t know what it means than to hear “max safety buffer” and think they know but be wrong.

As Mark Twain supposedly said, it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know that ain’t so.

The Bottom (wait for it) Line

The beauty of “bright red line” is that it doesn’t have that problem. It describes perfectly literally what we draw on your graph and it has exactly the line-in-the-sand connotation that’s at the heart of Beeminder. Cross this line, pay money.

Compare to “beeline” which connotes getting from A to B as fast as possible, which doesn’t really jibe with Beeminder’s philosophy. This is also kind of a problem with the term “goal”, but that’s a different can of worms to be opened on another day.


 

Footnotes

[1] Isn’t that the same thing? There’s a critical edge of that band and that’s effectively the bright line. You can go off that band in the other direction and that just makes you extra safe. Yes yes yes, but we defined the line to your goal in terms of the center of that band and that was a monstrous monkey wrench messing up everything. The real difference is that now that line that you set is the critical bright line, the thing you can’t cross, and everything is drastically better this way.

[2] Quoting myself from a daily beemail when I was in the midst of this undertaking:

Imagine if we discovered not just life on Mars but actual people. Then imagine that you were in charge of an umpteen-volume encyclopedia and had to change every instance of “humans” and “people” and such to “earthlings” or “terrestrians” to disambiguate. That’s kind of how daunted I’m feeling with this “Yellow Brick Road” to “Bright Red Line” refactoring!

Beeminder is big and involves a lot of words, is my point.

[3] Thanks to Robert Perce in the community Discord for dissuading me from “hew to the bright red line”. While I’m at it, thanks to Zedmango and Lanthala and Gbear605 and many others I’m forgetting for a lot of help with the brainstorming on all this. And Emerald Pham for pointing me to the Elton John song.

[4] Other contenders before we reigned ourselves in: Bright-line Bender, Commitment Calibrator, Rate Readjuster. We’re also working on merging the visual graph editor into Beeminder proper; maybe changing the slope of the bright red line will be so fundamental to the interface that it won’t even need a name. We’ll see!

[5] Arguably we bike-shedded the crap out of this terminology question — another reason to publish this blog post and officially call the question settled! It was fun though. This kind of thing is basically a hobby of mine. In fact, in a way this is the third blog post in a row that’s largely about onomastics. Having now realized that, I’m hereby committing to tone it down for a while!


 

Image credit: Faire Soule-Reeves

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