The only conclusion I can make is that it wasn't the actual character and its animations that I hated. They are, if I'm being honest with myself, kind of cute and endearing. The reason I hated Clippy was that it was condescending.
"I see you're trying to write a letter. Would you like me to help you with that?"
Hindsight is 20/20, but Microsoft should have realized there's no way to phrase that and not insult the intelligence of 90% of your users.
Interestingly, I see an analogy here with today's GPS software. No matter how nice they make the voice sound, they never fail to sound condescending when you veer from the pre-calculated route. I love MotionX GPS Drive for the iPhone (other than the fact that it crashes every time I go to another app), but the default voice manages to make me physically angry every time she says "Rerouting". You can almost hear the disappointing frown on her face, as if she's saying "sigh I guess I'm going to have to plot a new course since you're obviously not smart enough to stay on the one I made for you."
How hard would it be to make a GPS system that just assumed I might want to get gas or stop for a bite to eat if I took an unplanned exit off an interstate with hundreds of miles to go on my journey?
I think Clippy and rude nav systems are different manifestations of the same problem. It's a kind of "uncanny valley of human-computer interaction", although here the revulsion is not triggered by looks or movement but by BEHAVIOR. It's behavior that is almost, but not quite, human. Specifically, I think it's triggered when a computer system takes a tone of intellectual superiority over its user.
Because most of us know that our technology is nowhere near the level of intelligence needed to actually be wiser than we are, we feel the same kind of indignation and resentment at the posturing of the system as we do when a small child insists that we don't know what we're talking about while answering their question about why the sky is blue.
I'm not so sure. Certainly their phrases were condescending (was obvious to me and the reason I hated it back in the day - maybe the fact that I was a child then made me more used to being talked down to and therefore spotting it?), but that doesn't automatically mean there's no way of doing it well.
"It looks like you're writing a letter, would you like a template to save you time?"
Suddenly it's not talking as if I'm so stupid I need help with a basic task, it's admitting that I am quite capable without it but that it, being a computer, can save me some hassle.
- Open letter template
"Clippy was crippled by MS when they implemented the working research project into the broken version used in Office.
The original implementation was deemed "too cautious" by PHBs, and thus a stupid kludge was added to make clippy appear more often.
(Interestingly that URL mentions siri before it was released)."
It's like there's a team that identifies problems with your product but they have no influence over the product engineers so their only hope is the Clippy team.
Just as a side note, I really like Google Maps' routing system. If I stray from the computed route it just silently recalculates and let's me know where to turn next. There is no "Recalculating" phrase at all. :)
It doesn't have to be an obnoxious, repeated "Recalculating", I guess. A simple chime is pleasant -- but far less intuitive, you'd have to learn a new signal. Plenty of people are confused by navs making a chime sound when you're over the speed limit. An optical signal, like a big red X or a question mark on the display would be a good hint.
Imagine, you're at your desk. Someone comes up: "Hey I see you're at your desk, do you need help with sitting on your chair?".
Don't help someone who doesn't ask for help.
Clippy appeared at random intervals interrupting me, and almost never were useful. And even if it was - I can only guess what caused it to appear, so I still won't know how to make it do the same thing again. So I couldn't integrate it into my mental model of application.
So it was just very infuriating interruption.
The same problem is with autocorrect. I hate this thing.
I never understood this attitude.
IF (and only if) your help would very likely be useful and you know how to approach the person, then, why not?
As for the software angle, Clippy was indeed dumb and rarely offered useful help (partially because, as one of the comments above states, some boss forced engineers to replace a good algorithm with a more business suitable algorithm). But in general, I subscribe to the idea that software should be less interactive and guess more (and let you correct it, if the guesses were wrong).
If he'd appear in something less formal, like a video game or a quirky website where I just came to goof off and play with animated doodads, I might have had a different impression of him.
And further, he appeared when a tool that was suppose to accomplish a specific task failed and he then proceeded to fail to be useful. Mostly, he appeared where the index to help menu was suppose to be. I generally knew the topic I wanted help on and Clippy wasn't it. Under those circumstances, you really couldn't help but want to rip his guts out and shove them down his throat.
But hey, that was then. Maybe all is forgiven...
I think you are writing a letter. Is there any way I can help you with that?
I had a lot of fun playing with the MSAgent API as a kid.
Microsoft Agent was pretty cool. Not terribly useful, but there's a huge variety of available agents. It had text-to-speech as well as voice recognition. You could completely programatically control it.
Internet Explorer even supported MSAgent in the browser. There were a few sites that used it for various fun animations or greetings cards. Perhaps this could make them usable again.
In fact, you could also use it in PowerPoint to add an agent to your presentations. That was fun.
Anyway, I think it was a great technology -- it could work perfect just as a async-capable and timeout-dismissable replacement of all those stacked messageboxes and dialogs Office uses, and they made it a fancy help search box :-(
Maybe Agents would've taken off if you had to press the Windows key or something to summon them.
Clippy was also intended to be an "Agent", but it failed spectacularly at it because:
1. It tried to help you when you didn't want help, like an annoying intern who won't leave you alone.
2. When you actually wanted it to help you, it was invariably unable to perform the tasks you wanted.
It reminds me of my now aged mother shouting at me down the phone "how do I get rid of that little bastard paper clip that pops up and tells me what I should be doing every 2 seconds".
I'm rolling suggestions, pouring pain
I'm coming on like a hurricane
My avatar's flashing across the sky
You're not young but you're gonna die
I won't take no users, won't spare no lives
Document's putting up a fight
I got my clip I'm gonna take you to hell
I'm gonna get ya, Clippy get ya
Hells bells, you got me ringing
Hells bells, my temperature's high
I'll give you black sensations up and down your spine
If you're into evil, you're a friend of mine
And it can't come soon enough :o)
"I see you're sending an email. Would you like help with that?"
Alternatively, the judge sees the suit and laughs Microsoft out of court.
as for clippy, it would be more entertaining if it made suggestions when someone typed something in a text field, or so I would think..