My new hero is Dr. Clifford Nass, who I could hug for coming up with the phrase “Computers are Social Actors.” I’m really fascinated by the way his work engages with the way we respond to computers the same way as we would a person. This research is vital to interface development as it shifts away from the desktop paradigm to HUDs and navigation systems in cars. I’m particularly interested in his work on cars as I feel like we’ll get there before wearables. Now I just have to restrain myself from throwing my credit card at his latest book, The Man Who Lied to His Laptop.

This article Nass wrote in the Wall Street Journal is mind blowingly awesome and has the best explanation for why Microsoft’s Clippy became the most reviled “assistant” ever. However, Nass is out to prove that it could have been different if Clippy had been implemented with a social strategy that builds a relationship. I’m enthralled by his conclusions about the bonding aspects of¬†scapegoating:

Without any fundamental change in the software, the right social strategy rescued Clippy from the list of Most Hated Software of all time; creating a scapegoat bonded Clippy and the user against a common enemy. Of course, that enemy was Microsoft, which didn’t pursue this strategy. When Microsoft retired Clippy in 2007, it invited people to shoot staples at him before his final burial.

I find it amazing that people hated an animated intermediary but didn’t in turn hate Microsoft. Part of me wonders if Clippy was the scapegoat that made users ignore the rest of the steaming pile that Microsoft has served throughout the years. But I’m not convinced that Microsoft is that wiley.¬† However, I now have a new hero and a whole pile of a new material to read.

Clippy Al

"I see you're trying to take a picture" - Al at Halloween 2009


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