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July 25, 2015 2:00 AM   Subscribe

"Women told Microsoft the animated paper clip was leering at them. The software company didn’t listen." -- the story of Microsoft's Clippy.
posted by MartinWisse (102 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
The question is, who didn't Clippy annoy? 'He' certainly annoyed me (a woman), but not because I perceived him to be leering at me, but because he would just appear on screen in the middle of whatever-the-heck I was doing and ask stupid questions that you would be compelled to answer ("No, I don't need your help!") to make him go away. I suppose he did read 'male' to me, but only because I (we) have been conditioned to think that an animated creature without eyelashes = boy. A Clippy with eyelashes (Clippyetta?) would have been equally annoying. Perhaps even more so because of the more obvious gender stereotyping.
posted by Halo in reverse at 2:20 AM on July 25, 2015 [12 favorites]


Engineers at Microsoft:

sooo, you don't like Clippy huh? You're gonna fuckin' love Internet Explorer...
posted by mattoxic at 2:39 AM on July 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


Google: No results found for "Clippy looks like woody allen"

So I guess I'm the only one who thinks so, but c'mon.
posted by taz at 2:43 AM on July 25, 2015 [83 favorites]


because he would just appear on screen in the middle of whatever-the-heck I was doing and ask stupid questions that you would be compelled to answer

That was so awful. I can sort of see what they were thinking, but what a dumb move it was, and the gender aspect described in the article just brings that home.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:10 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


taz, if there's ever a category at an awards show for 'Most Spot-On Comparison Between an Annoying Paperclip and a Way-Past-His-Prime Director' you'll be going home with a statuette.
posted by item at 3:13 AM on July 25, 2015 [14 favorites]


Not only did Clippy just show up whenever you didn't want to be interrupted, but it was also sort of condescending, too, wasn't it?

But what really drove me nuts about it was it was just another infantilizing of life, of making reality into some sort of cartoon. It is sort of archetypically American, isn't it? Just like the habit many have of trying to crack wise as if they are in a sitcom. I bet the guys pushing it thought they were living in some sort of sitcom, too.

Thank God we started seeing stuff like this.
posted by nothing.especially.clever at 4:00 AM on July 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


Later on, you could choose what kind of "helper" you'd get, and my Mom chose the dog. She'd be thrilled when he'd show up, and she sometimes asks still if they could add him back into Word.
posted by xingcat at 4:22 AM on July 25, 2015 [28 favorites]


Clippy appeared on my undergraduate campus at a point in time when I was being wooed by a young man who worked in Computing Services, in charge of managing the computer cluster software. He would occasionally show his love by doing things like abusing his cluster privileges to bump me to the head of the print queues.

Clippy let him drag out the big guns. I hated Clippy and was so mad that he was on all the cluster computers. So just for me, my boyfriend changed every computer cluster on campus. He wasn't allowed to get rid of Clippy altogether, but he changed the default to Links the Cat who was, while still annoying, a cute cat and not a big creepy paper clip with eyes, and then I never had to see Clippy again. It was quite the romantic gesture.

Reader, I shacked up with him. (But he made me wake up at 6 am to help him spray a yellow jacket nest with poison this morning. So I'm rethinking all my life choices.)
posted by Stacey at 4:24 AM on July 25, 2015 [246 favorites]


Ho continues, saying that the engineers in the room were willing to throw out the focus-group-provided data—data which they paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for—because it didn’t cohere to their expectations.
A company-wide phenomenon, not limited to this. They know better than you do what you want and like, so why should they listen to you?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:27 AM on July 25, 2015 [28 favorites]


There was at least one person who liked Clippy.
posted by tavella at 4:33 AM on July 25, 2015 [18 favorites]


xingcat: ...what kind of "helper" you'd get, and my Mom chose the dog

Oh, that dog -- he lived outside of Offce and was turned on by default for the bog-standard Windows filesystem search, I believe even in the Professional versions of Windows. You do a ctrl-F, and he hops in, asking a series of questions that makes "I'M JUST TRYING TO FIND ALL THE *.PDFs CREATED IN THE PAST MONTH IN MY DOCUMENTS YOU DUMB DOG" a frustrating and unpleasant experience. I quickly figured out how to turn him off, but I believe he was also a user-preference so even if someone logged into the same computer, or your profile got corrupt, he came back.

It also seemed like the animated helpers like Clippy removed advanced features, which kind of undermines the reason for having a 'wizard' assist. Wizards should simplify doing complex processes, shouldn't they? They created a helper to help doing something that a half-sheet set of instructions could suffice. When I'm getting frustrated googling for how to set up my mail merge on conditional characteristics of the source data because it looks right but isn't doing what I want, by all means, send me a little animated character that says, "OK, I agree, this is a pain in the ass, I'll just take care of that for you."
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:35 AM on July 25, 2015 [11 favorites]


Clippy - Microsoft's first mansplainer?

I hated him too, usually changed him to the wizard dude.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:56 AM on July 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think I switched to the dog, on the grounds that dogs can fetch things you're looking for. Still annoying, but at least the metaphor made sense.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:03 AM on July 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Microsoft sooo wanted to be seen as friendly and approachable with a sense of humor instead of just another Very Hungry Alligator impersonating a fuzzy bunny. (Apple, otoh, aches to have its designs perceived as cutting edge gorgeous rather than 1.17 steps better than supermarket modern.) Oh, reality...
posted by jfuller at 5:09 AM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not mansplaining - sealioning. Insistently asking unhelpful questions. Offering a purportedly logical but in reality simpleminded point of view. Diverting attention away from the meaning of the work. Obviously not a good faith attempt to be helpful.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:11 AM on July 25, 2015 [42 favorites]


Side-eye Clippy is the most leer-y Clippy.
posted by allthinky at 5:30 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


This article felt weirdly truncated. Am I missing another page, or did the editor get a bit keen on the brutality and brevity?
posted by howfar at 5:36 AM on July 25, 2015 [17 favorites]


Since we're not overly fond of fasteners here in the archive, a paper clip (and animated!) was hardly welcome, although better than a talking straight pin or staple.

Now if you could get an acid-free bond paper folder with a quarter-inch drop tab to talk, I think I could persuade IT we need an upgrade...
posted by datawrangler at 5:52 AM on July 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


What was the paper clip supposed to be an analog for in the Windows OSes? I can't think of any way to actually 'clip' two things together in Windows. So it was like he was the mascot of nothing. That's the part I thought was the most strange. The just took the desktop metaphor and used it beyond the point where it stopped making any sense.
posted by newdaddy at 6:00 AM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I promise I'm not joking when I say I miss the little cat helper. Normal Windows search back then was a goddamn trash fire (and probably still is), but searching for a file through the Office Assistant actually worked. Found what I was looking for and got on with my work. I was sorry to see it go.

plus I swear that cat would periodically lick its anus when I wasn't looking right at it
posted by sidereal at 6:05 AM on July 25, 2015 [14 favorites]


I can't help but think that the same mindset that produced Clippy also produced the "ribbon".
posted by tommasz at 6:09 AM on July 25, 2015 [20 favorites]


I was hoping for an in-depth explanation of the organizational blind spots that led to such a massive mess up. Why were they able to throw out focus group data? Did no one higher up actually try out the product? What was the design process like? Who felt they needed a friendlier UI and why?

Instead I got "this was bad because it was made by men", supported by one executive who says that they threw out data because it "didn't conform to their expectations" - the implication being that men can't change their decisions when faced with conflicting data.
posted by The Ted at 6:12 AM on July 25, 2015 [10 favorites]


__
/ \
| |
@ @
|| ||
|| ||
|\_/|
\___/

pardon me, but i couldn't help but overhear ...
posted by pyramid termite at 6:19 AM on July 25, 2015 [68 favorites]


It turned out to be one of the most unpopular features ever introduced—especially among female users.
How is that possible, when approx. 100% of the users loathed that feature?

I mean, I get that leering problem, but I'm pretty sure male users didn't like to be monitored, too. I for sure didn't. Being Microsoft-paranoid and all (which, as tavella's link shows, wasn't paranoia - it did phone home, after all).
posted by ojemine at 6:26 AM on July 25, 2015


Aside from the gender issues and ugliness and absurdity, Clippy is one of the worst examples I know of a software design anti-pattern I like to call "add more help, people love that". After a cursory google I can't find a canonical name.

I can totally understand how it got built though. Adding help is much easier and more straightforward than figuring out what features you can remove (and doing so), and figuring out how people actually use your product and making that simpler.

For all the shit I and others give Apple for their other issues, this is a thing they've done very successfully a few times, and a thing Microsoft is historically terrible at. The fundamental mistake Clippy's designers made is thinking that the solution to complexity is more complexity.
posted by contrarian at 6:32 AM on July 25, 2015 [15 favorites]


Could someone expand on why the characters got read as male? Merlin obviously is, and the paperclip had big eyebrows at a time when fashion was for women to have almost non-existent eyebrows, but the rest -- an office logo, a red smiley, a globe, a puppy, a kitten, and a non-humanoid robot -- seem genderless to me. Insofar as I thought anything about them (...beyond incoherent rage as it popped up, unasked and unexpected, reducing my computer to an unusable crawl when I was trying to work), I regarded them as "it".

Or is it more that every character not explicitly gendered is presumed male? What's a good workaround for that, for designers who want to produce a gender-neutral character?
posted by metaBugs at 6:36 AM on July 25, 2015


Love this ending from Fallows re his involvement with Clippy:

As Fallows has written of his contribution to progress: “Somehow I feel a solidarity with the gantry engineers who helped prepare for Yuri Gagarin’s launch. We all were part of something larger that moved humanity ahead.”

I think I"m going to append that to all of my mundane anecdotes.
posted by angrycat at 6:38 AM on July 25, 2015 [16 favorites]


I was just getting into computers when clippy arrived on scene. I moved from some kid centric word processor to Word and my biggest issue with Clippy aside from the fact he was 100 percent useless was that he slowed down my computer with not quite enough RAM. So at home I continued to type documents on some quirky non supported kid centric processor way past the point I should have used it.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:47 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I kind of liked the Mother Earth helper. She was calming, opposed to the fury I felt when Clippy appeared.
posted by Elly Vortex at 6:55 AM on July 25, 2015


Windows 2000 and Word 97 (despite the paperclip) are probably the zenith of actual functionality for Microsoft products. Everything since then has been adding barriers between the user and the actual machine in the guise of "help" which actually removes features.

One which most non-programmers don't notice is that starting with Windows XP, the default search function will not find text in files whose types Windows doesn't recognize -- say, for example, .spin which is the extension for Parallax Propeller code files. This was presumably done so that Windows can find the correct filter to find text in non straight text files like Word documents, but it makes it impossible to search within a library of source code in some language Microsoft doesn't use themselves. There is no way to fix this and as a result the first thing I have to do when I get a new computer is add a third party utility called Agent Ransack to do proper searches.

And of course, with Windows 8, Classic Shell to restore all the missing desktop user interface elements...
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:59 AM on July 25, 2015 [14 favorites]


For a minute there I was looking for the 'next page' button. Short but interesting.
posted by Splunge at 7:03 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I used a computer where the dog was the helper and somehow kept appearing no matter how many times I turned it off. When you turn it off, the puppy gives you a sad look and walks away into the horizon. It was AWFUL! I was a serial puppy killer!
posted by acrasis at 7:31 AM on July 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


I don't get the hate. I just turned off Clippy or whatever the first time I saw it and that was the end of that. I can actually remember doing it.

Interesting article, buy I wanted to read more.
posted by Nevin at 7:31 AM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yep, truncated history/article that kinda pounds on the gender issue. To continue:

Clippy's ancestors were Microsoft Bob. Remember that? There was a character for every personality type...and those characters acted curt, grumpy, happy, etc. based on what microsoft perceived as typical users. I rather liked the angry parrot (before I turned 'em all off by default).

Much of this was based, in part, on research that found people treated computers as "social actors." That is in multiple experiments, people would treat a computer as a person...with significant results over and over. My take was that because people treated computers as such, it *did not* mean they wanted a computer to act like a social actor! That's where Msoft blew it...extrapolating from research results.

For more on that aspect, search for "The Media Equation" Reeves & Nass. They consulted at Microsoft for Bob and Clippy.

A lot of this computers as social actors stuff is still out there...the little pictures of a female with a telephone headset (often touching the microphone at the side of her head) offering to "help" on web pages--very common.

The more modern equivalent is probably Siri and the new Android voice helper....

Engineers/Designers/Interface folks are still convinced we want our devices to be social actors....
posted by CrowGoat at 7:41 AM on July 25, 2015 [15 favorites]


It looks like we're trying to have an argument about why skeuomorphic design is bad and the people who implement it should feel bad. Do we want some help with that?
posted by sourcequench at 7:43 AM on July 25, 2015 [10 favorites]


One which most non-programmers don't notice is that starting with Windows XP, the default search function will not find text in files whose types Windows doesn't recognize....There is no way to fix this.--Bringer Tom

Actually there is a way to fix this. I have done this in the past to get Windows to search in Verilog files. It involves a number of obscure, unintuitive steps, which I never remember, and every time the OS gets updated or I move to another computer I'm back to square one. So, like you, I now use other search methods.
posted by eye of newt at 7:48 AM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I actually felt kind of sad for the dog when I at once turned it off forever and he sadly shuffled away
posted by thelonius at 7:52 AM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I tried fixing the ascii clippy, but this is the best I could do:

-__
/ ' '\
| ' '|
@ @
|| || < I'm infected with head apostrophes. Kill me.
|| ||
|\_/|
\___/

Honestly, I didn't type the dialogue line. It just popped up. Weirdly enough, doesn't pop up when I fix it on my mac...
posted by Philipschall at 7:57 AM on July 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Here's an article that expands on CrowGoat's comment, which discusses the research that led to Micrfosoft Bob, and then Clippy.
posted by eye of newt at 7:58 AM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


tavella: There was at least one person who liked Clippy.

Wow. For once the Storify formatting actually improved the story. Short and sad.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:01 AM on July 25, 2015 [10 favorites]


Instead I got "this was bad because it was made by men", supported by one executive who says that they threw out data because it "didn't conform to their expectations" - the implication being that men can't change their decisions when faced with conflicting data.

The implication is that men of power and privilege can't change their decisions when faced with conflicting data... which certainly matches all my anecdotal real world experiences.
posted by davros42 at 8:05 AM on July 25, 2015 [12 favorites]


- the implication being that men can't change their decisions when faced with conflicting data.

It's a shame that we don't have someone right here on Metafilter recently telling nearly an identical anecdote about a boss man being upset and unwilling to listen to women's feedback about a terrible product.
posted by damayanti at 8:20 AM on July 25, 2015 [14 favorites]


In the early 1990s when I was in graduate school I got quite interested in formal systems for reasoning under uncertainty. In particular, I learned a lot about Bayesian belief networks, which culminated in me enrolling in a week-long workshop on theory and applications of these probabilistic networks. At the time, Microsoft Research was hiring up the top researchers in this field, people like David Heckerman and Jack Breese. So guess where Microsoft ended up first using this bit of applied math commercially? Clippy.
posted by Numenius at 8:40 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


And he finally departed this digital veil in 2007, when Microsoft Office dismissed him all together.

I miss copyediting.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:03 AM on July 25, 2015 [11 favorites]


"Or is it more that every character not explicitly gendered is presumed male? What's a good workaround for that, for designers who want to produce a gender-neutral character?"

Yes. Everything is coded as male unless it has big eyelashes and a bow on its head. We don't really do "gender neutral" sentient creatures in our world, and men dominate everything, so we "know" that everything is male unless it has a bow/skirt/eyelashes on it first. I don't think there really is a way to do "gender neutral character." If it's a generic paper clip, we "know" it's got an imaginary penis hidden somewhere.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:17 AM on July 25, 2015 [10 favorites]


And ten years later...
posted by dilaudid at 9:22 AM on July 25, 2015


"Or is it more that every character not explicitly gendered is presumed male?"
Yes.
There is no gender neutral. You can do gender-confused by adding markers for both genders, I suppose, but the world does not really recognize neutral yet.

On preview, jenfullmoon says it well.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:24 AM on July 25, 2015


Also: Google search: clippy woody allen
"Did you mean: creepy woody allen"
posted by SLC Mom at 9:28 AM on July 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


In the day of Clippy, I had no computer skills. I owe it because I had to learn how to make it go away. It was really annoying, being condescended to by an appliance.
posted by Oyéah at 9:29 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


As crowgoat mentioned, Clippy was first used in Microsoft Bob, then transitioned into Office when Bob failed miserably.

A program manager on Microsoft Bob was Melinda French, now known as Melinda Gates. Clippy was part of her legacy at Microsoft. The worst thing about Clippy was that no matter how many times you tried to turn it off, if you didn't know the right magic, it would come back.

Microsoft also wouldn't publish the API for the office assistants because they were afraid that someone would come up with one that was NSFW.
posted by Xoc at 9:32 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks newt and crowgoat! Very interesting insights behind what m-soft was trying to accomplish.
posted by The Ted at 9:34 AM on July 25, 2015


I don't get the hate. I just turned off Clippy or whatever the first time I saw it and that was the end of that. I can actually remember doing it.

And then you get to do it again for the next computer you have to use. And the one after that. And the one after that... Oh, and don't forget school/library computer labs that don't let you save any settings.

And ten years later...

"Guys, we need something to compete with Siri."

"How about the same thing, but with tits and revealing clothes?"

"That's a great idea! People love that sexist shit."
posted by hyperbolic at 9:44 AM on July 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


Siri is beyond gender, if asked.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:49 AM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


There is also another theory of the particular type of bad corporate decision-making that led to Clippy. Supposedly, Clippy was based on pretty substantial research in user modeling/machine learning/interactive pedagogy, but what was released was a dumbed-down incomplete prototype, since management didn't want to spare the resources for poor Clippy's brain.
posted by what of it at 9:51 AM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I hated that search dog. Each new PC I had to deal with, step 47 of making the place usable was shutting off that dog, and even after you disabled that dog, Microsoft left in one last middle-finger animation of that dog walking away.
posted by kurumi at 9:59 AM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Has anyone considered how Microsoft design reflected their attitude towards their customers? There were "wizards" who were smarter and more powerful than you. Other OSs had "assistants" who did your bidding. "Bob" and it's progeny basically assumed that users were children who could be helped by cartoon characters. I always used to laugh when my manager gave presentations. He was a fanatic Windows user. When he ran PowerPoint in front of an audience, it would always begin with Einstein walking out on the screen and then hanging about in front of stuff for the whole presentation. Given that a lot of Microsoft's products were acquired, we can revel in the knowledge that Clippy et al were their originals.
posted by njohnson23 at 10:24 AM on July 25, 2015


And ten years later...

Wait, what, really? Look, I'm pretty technologically obtuse these days, and I don't know what all the kids are up to. I've seen that character before, though, and somehow knew her name was Cortana, but I thought she was from some shoot-em-up video game I've never played? Halo or something? Now you're telling me this is actually how Microsoft wants to portray a real-life AI assistant?

I don't want to live on this planet anymore.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:42 AM on July 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


I tried fixing the ascii clippy, but this is the best I could do

It looks like you're trying to <pre> tag. Would you like help with that?
posted by 7segment at 10:47 AM on July 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Siri is beyond gender, if asked.

Cortana, Microsoft's new competitor, sure isn't.

I thought she was from some shoot-em-up video game I've never played? Halo or something? I thought she was from some shoot-em-up video game I've never played? Halo or something?

Even better — Halo's Cortana is an AI character. The embodiment and gendering (in the video games, and now the agent marketing) is pure fan service.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:50 AM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Even better — Cortana is an AI. The embodiment and gendering is pure fan service.

Seriously, whenever someone in computers or media make an A.I. servant, that make it a sexy woman. The level of conscious sexism and portrayal of women as things involved is just disgusting.

It's like the people responsible simply can't regard women as properly human, much less as over half of their customer base.
posted by happyroach at 10:55 AM on July 25, 2015 [17 favorites]


People ignoring data and just going ahead with their own designs regardless of research? That's like HiPPO 101, they cover it on the syllabus right after "swoop in and shit all over a thing, then walk out."
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:59 AM on July 25, 2015


Seriously, whenever geeks in computers or media make an A.I. servant, that make it a sexy woman. The level of conscious sexism and portrayal of women as things is just disgusting.

One notable exception, of course, is Tony Stark's JARVIS in the MCU.

The character of Sung "Girl One" Li in Alan Moore's Top 10 comic series is a weird sort of lampshading of the trope. She's an artificial designed being with superhuman strength and agility, and she's also shaped like an extremely attractive naked woman. When we meet her creators, they turn out to be horrible, socially inept geeks. We get the fan service, but we're also being told, "Hey, this isn't necessary, and if you think it is, you're just as horrible as these guys."
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:02 AM on July 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


Seriously, whenever geeks in computers or media make an A.I. servant, that make it a sexy woman. The level of conscious sexism and portrayal of women as things is just disgusting.

One notable exception, of course, is Tony Stark's JARVIS in the MCU


And HAL 9000. And K.I.T.T.
posted by item at 11:20 AM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


chainsofreedom: "Clippy - Microsoft's first mansplainer?

I hated him too, usually changed him to the wizard dude.
"

Umm... Is that, I mean... The type of person who puts on their robe and wizard hat is probably not too far from a mansplainer.
posted by symbioid at 11:24 AM on July 25, 2015


And K.A.R.R.
posted by symbioid at 11:32 AM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've always found clippy annoying, but for years my wife would say that clippy made her feel oggled a bit, especially when he would wink. I absolutely could not see it, beyond the general annoyance of his presence. I'm going to show her this article and tell her that I get it now.

It's really interesting to me how interpreting things can be so gendered, and disappointing how often things are influenced by gender in such a lopsided way. I feel a bit insulted that my wife felt leered at, but more so that the opinions of women were so dismissed just out of hand after spending so much money on getting it right. It's like privilege wrapped in obliviousness.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:33 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's like the people responsible simply can't regard women as properly human, much less as over half of their customer base.

Bungie's gotten worse about this too. Halo is basically a continuation of Marathon. The origin of Cortana's name contains a reference to the same of a previous AI character, Durandal, from Marathon 2.

But I guess when you haven't really come up with any new basic gameply since 1994 you sell sex instead.

And phones.

Sex-o-phones.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:35 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


My workplace has a similarly broken design process, though maybe not in the same way. The UX team is pulled in to modify wireframes and requirements late in the process. They spend weeks to months on a design, user interviews and testing and similar processes. Then the group leaders responsible for the software take the designs and revert them back to their pet designs, ignoring the majority of the UX work.

The end result is software designed by middle managers (those in power) in the group who don't have a great understanding and seem to think that "design is just opinion." Since they are the managers, their opinions always count the most.

I'm not sure why they bother, other than the fact that they can then tout their design process in presentations. This is the same way they promote "agile" when their 3x weekly "stand up meetings" per project are sit down meetings that last at least an hour and usually run over to 90 minutes. They tout that in their presentations, too, since they need to win at buzzword bingo.

My manager was shocked at a conference when she realized a group she admired had the UX group begin earlier and they spent so much time on the process. Now she's having design start earlier, take longer and still dismissing most of it in the end for her own preferences. In other words, just wasting even bigger amounts of people's time.

I don't particularly see how incompetence is a defining male trait as perhaps implied by the article. Our managers are fairly evenly split between the genders and they are similarly incompetent to each other, just in slightly different ways. While the female managers often seek more input (and subsequently ignore it), I'm not sure that makes them particularly superior.

While I had a fairly competent female boss previously, I've also had some good male bosses and "decision makers." It seems to me that it's more about whoever is in power in a particular situation--they get their way 95% of the time. It's unfair that men have had more power in the past. I'm glad women are getting some better chances compared to the past.

It seems to be human nature to screw things up, often badly.
posted by clickingmongrel at 11:37 AM on July 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


And HAL 9000. And K.I.T.T.

Cortana the Sexbot aside, it's interesting how these and many other sci-fi robots or AIs are voiced or portrayed as effeminate (gay) men. C3PO, Vincent, Kryten.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:44 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]




And ten years later...


This is the most depressing thing I've seen today. What the actual fuck?
posted by billiebee at 12:13 PM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Help in Microsoft Office these days is actually great. Ask it a question and you'll get a useful relevant answer nearly every time.

The wheels of Redmond grind slow, but exceeding fine.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:10 PM on July 25, 2015


I don't particularly see how incompetence is a defining male trait as perhaps implied by the article.

Not so much incompetence in general, but a) that blindness to gender issues (or racial/cultural ones in other context) and b) that dismissal of expert opinion in favour of your own hunches (Bush's famous gut decisions come to mind) is a stereotypical masculine trait, though of course there are enough women who do the same.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:15 PM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


The(y) just took the desktop metaphor and used it beyond the point where it stopped making any sense.

Well, honestly, the metaphor is kind of broken right out of the gate. Opening 'windows' on your 'desktop' doesn't really make all that much sense.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:26 PM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Opening 'windows' on your 'desktop' doesn't really make all that much sense.

Actually, the desktop part of that is more broken than the window part. As a metaphor, the idea that you are opening a window through which you will see your application makes perfect sense.

Calling the meta-window of the monitor where all the other windows live a desktop is the bigger stretch, but in a more abstract sense that makes sense too; it's a place you actually do your immediate work and where you dump stuff that you use often and don't want to go looking for when you need it quickly.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:07 PM on July 25, 2015


I asked the nameless feminine sounding Google Now voice its gender.

I got this:
Your flesh is an insult to the perfection of the digital.
Probably beyond gender then.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:21 PM on July 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


Is Microsoft actually using the sexualized Cortana from Halo to market the Windows Phone/Windows 10 assistant app?

All I see is a circle on the website.

Although, I find it also odd to imagine a future where the Space Marine Corps would spend resources on giving their AI programs sex appeal. But I'm neither a Microsoft employee or Space Marine.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:51 PM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I liked the dog, I even liked the cat, but the paper clip was highly annoying.
The dog did cute stuff like sniff and dig.
My son made sure I always got the dog. Then Yaaaaay! Went to using Linux.... Then double Yaaaaay got an iPhone! No more džin! Oooooops! I meant: No more animated helpers !!!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:59 PM on July 25, 2015


I Like Katjusa, I always had it set as the dog and it was relatively endearing rather than annoying. It wasn't however terribly useful.
posted by mmascolino at 6:10 PM on July 25, 2015


Has nobody linked to the funny Wait Wait bit about clippy and Paula Poundstone? "Clippy must die! " (click the bottom/lower listen button and, well, wait fot it...)
posted by mightshould at 6:13 PM on July 25, 2015


Or is it more that every character not explicitly gendered is presumed male? What's a good workaround for that, for designers who want to produce a gender-neutral character?
posted by metaBugs at 9:36 AM on July 25

Here is a good place to start.
posted by Mchelly at 7:38 PM on July 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Even better — Cortana is an AI. The embodiment and gendering is pure fan service.

Seriously, whenever someone in computers or media make an A.I. servant, that make it a sexy woman.
I just want an AI servant in the guise of bit from the original Tron. That's some fan service. Also it would be less annoying than most other attempts.
posted by cardioid at 8:14 PM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Actually, the desktop part of that is more broken than the window part.

Well, sure, as you say, the window metaphor in and of itself makes sense, and the desktop metaphor in and of itself makes sense. What I was suggesting is that it's the intersection of the two metaphors where things kinda break down.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:52 PM on July 25, 2015


I think I remember hearing somewhere that the in-universe excuse for Cortana's appearance is that the AI was made by someone, based on her own brain-scan, and that's what she looked like? Could be wrong, not trying to defend it, etc
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 8:59 PM on July 25, 2015


I'd trace Clippy back to ideas such as Douglas Adams and Tom Baker's Hyperland or John Sculley's Knowledge Navigator--the idea that finding your way around online would be too onerous without some helpful native guide. Somehow that got changed to needing help on your own computer with simple tasks such as word processing, which might have been plausible if you were that person who needed help each and every time you had to change the font size or something, and not so much if you were literally just about anyone else.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:11 PM on July 25, 2015


Clippy has been back in my consciousness lately for some reason—before this article came out, a while back, someone added Clippy as an emoji in work Slack, and I'd been meaning to replace that version with an animated one that was more properly cropped. But yeah, I think it was for that reason that I remembered the Clippy as suicide-note assistant meme recently. I was just thinking about that earlier in the context of "old jokes from the Internet past."
posted by limeonaire at 10:14 PM on July 25, 2015


Ooo, ClippyJS.
posted by limeonaire at 10:56 PM on July 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think I remember hearing somewhere that the in-universe excuse for Cortana's appearance is that the AI was made by someone, based on her own brain-scan, and that's what she looked like? Could be wrong, not trying to defend it, etc

The out of universe explanation is that halo was a children's toy marketed to teenage boys and boys like boobs, which isn't going to change any time soon.
posted by Sebmojo at 10:58 PM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Somehow that got changed to needing help on your own computer with simple tasks such as word processing, which might have been plausible if you were that person who needed help each and every time you had to change the font size or something, and not so much if you were literally just about anyone else.

Well, it depends on how often you had to use a new version of Word, which usually required* re-learning how to do stuff that you already knew how to do. Not that Clippy was much of any use for that. No, you had to go to the Help file, where the usual offerings were "You can [do the thing you want to do]" with zero information about how you would accomplish it.



* Notice how I used the past tense there? I am so glad there are open-source word-processors available that can handle MS documents, so I can forget all the different ways I had to learn for setting margins or formatting text.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:14 AM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


[One comment deleted. Sorry, but let's skip the offensive gay stereotype stuff (even as a "I'm talking about my own people" sort of thing), and also complaints about why not write about something else (since this is part of a series on "abandoned Internet icons")... plus suggestions that either the author or the former MS exec (unclear) is lying, exaggerating or obfuscating (again not really clear) are also not so great. ]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:48 AM on July 26, 2015


If we're nominating AI avatars that don't suck and aren't gendered fanservice I nominate the IBM Watson globe. Plus it'll fit in well when the machines take over the Earth.
posted by traveler_ at 3:56 AM on July 26, 2015


Not only is this article awkwardly short after setting itself up as an in depth "look behind the curtain", it reads like two drafts of the same few introductory paragraphs, one after another.
posted by nathancaswell at 4:01 AM on July 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


But what really drove me nuts about it was it was just another infantilizing of life, of making reality into some sort of cartoon. It is sort of archetypically American, isn't it?

It's actually more of a Japanese thing.
posted by sour cream at 5:00 AM on July 26, 2015


The only true digital assistant worth having is the annoying moose.

When install in Office back in the day, I would customize the install every single time, and set the "office assistant" to "not available".

Heck to this day I do the same with other useless, annoying software, like Outlook, which I refuse to allow anywhere near my personally owned computers.

(MS got its revenge though... I have to use that steaming pile of shit daily on my work computer now, and to add insult to injury I have to run the 2010 version in a virtual Windows desktop because corporate is still using Exchange 2007, which refuses to allow my work Mac to connect to the server... Ugh)
posted by caution live frogs at 7:03 AM on July 26, 2015


We moved only a year ago from Lotus Notes 6 to Outlook 2010, so from my vantage point, Outlook seems like the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Everything's relative.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:38 PM on July 26, 2015


What, no mention of Vigor?

(For the non-clicking, Vigor is a hacked up version of vi with an extra-annoying version of the paperclip added, inspired by this sequence of User Friendly strips. Vigor is still available on recent Ubuntu systems.)
posted by suetanvil at 4:44 PM on July 26, 2015


Also, it's been my experience with Microsoft's UX systems that they tend to be both condescending and wrong, sort of like an overeager relative who "knows computers" and will periodically snatch the keyboard away from you only to make a mess of things.

I once watched a friend of mine completely mess up his Windows XP configuration by pressing the "fix this" button associated with an innocuous error.

The last time I inserted an SD card into a Windows 7 PC (this was probably a year back, so my memory is a bit hazy) it immediately tried to start up some kind of photo management software and when I canceled that, the Windows Explorer it opened was in picture mode: giant icons suitable for use as decent thumbnails. The SD card held a Raspberry Pi boot image.

It's hard to see what they were thinking from a usability standpoint. If I used SD cards exclusively for pictures (which, admittedly, is somewhat common), I would imagine my workflow would be either insert the SD card and launch my photo app or insert the SD card and copy the pictures to My Pictures. Neither of these benefits from Windows 7's behaviour.

The only place this sort of thing makes sense is if you're demoing Windows to a potential new customer, someone who's never used it before. You can say, "Look, it handles your photos automatically!" and insert the SD card. The potential sucker buyer would see it automatically do the right thing and probably be impressed by the way the computer seems to read their mind.

And that, I believe, was the ultimate goal of the Clippy--to make it look like they had solved the usability problem long enough for the cheque to clear. The actual fix--reorganizing the interface to make everything visible and clear using human factors and psychology--wouldn't actually be noticed by the users. It would make their lives easier but they wouldn't notice. Instead, they'd focus on the stuff they still had trouble with and complain about that instead.

But Clippy is right there. You notice him. If only he were actually helpful.
posted by suetanvil at 5:27 PM on July 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


corporate is still using Exchange 2007, which refuses to allow my work Mac to connect to the server

In case you were told otherwise, Mail.app should synch with Exchange 2007 as long as Exchange Web Services is on.

Mac Outlook 2011 will also synch with Exchange 2007. Not sure about Mac OL 2016.

posted by snuffleupagus at 9:49 PM on July 26, 2015


I used to work as a software trainer, and one of the things that was guaranteed to get me positive ratings was showing users how to turn Clippy off.
posted by Gelatin at 5:57 AM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


H.A.L. and K.I.T.T. are fictional and not functional. Siri and Cortana are female servants people actually use. Which is obviously problematic. I don't talk to my phone though, or have one that can talk back, which is fine with me.
posted by agregoli at 11:31 AM on July 27, 2015


Snuffleupagus - my mistake! We're on Exchange 2003. Yep. The entire email system of a major federal department is running on software that was end-of-lifed over a year ago - and that's the EXTENDED support, not the original EOL.... It's so old they can't update to current without updating to one of the intermediate versions (2007 or 2010) first. Ugh.
posted by caution live frogs at 4:22 PM on July 29, 2015


Ah. In that case, yeah, your choices (aside from windows OL in a VM) would be Mail.app in IMAP-Exchange mode (a flavor of IMAP that works around Exchange bugs) or Entourage 2004 which was the native Mac client back then but was always kind of a smoking wreck. (Not sure if there was a flavor of Entourage 2008 that officially supported Exchange 2003 -- probably not.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:29 PM on July 29, 2015


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