How are blogs different from standalone documents and webpages?

  - Potential public nature of posts, and, if comments are enabled, readers can post responses and the author can reply.

  - Narratives and traditional documents are sequential mediums; blogs are not, so all posts must function coherently as standalone texts, because users might not access any specific order or subset of posts or even visit the main blog.

  - Essentially an automated database, with each post a separate database item, blog software can be used to store, sort, categorise and retrieve posts (eg. by date, chronological order or by category or meta-tags). Database functions are handled without users needing to understand or work on databases. Posts contain text formatting and media embedding without users needing to use or understand HTML directly. Unlike conventional documents/hierarchical storage, posts can be in many categories simultaneously.


Posted on: June 1st, 2014 by admin 1 Comment

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Rationale. Microsoft Agent (Office Assistants)


Link to the actual post on the blog:

This project explores a failed technology, by simulating Microsoft Agent (Office Assistant) (Microsoft, 1997; 2001; 2003) in an analogous context. Merely writing a ‘blogpost’ seemed like neglecting blogs’ medium specificities. However, web technologies[1] mean an experiential illustration of the case study and its problems can be used to augment the writing. Simulations (although frequently reductive ones) are a clear affordance of programmatic/interactive media over static media.

‘User control’ is often cited as a ‘benefit’ of interactivity (Liu & Shrum, 2002). Seemingly paradoxically,[2] this Agent simulation reduces users’ control while reading a static document. Users can configure or remove[3] ‘Clippy’ [Figure 1], but only by taking active steps. Software agents by definition place autonomous actions in the Agent, often not under control or direction of users (Franklin & Graesser, 1997), an opposing philosophy to (ostensibly) user-controlled “direct-manipulation” interfaces (Shneiderman & Maes, 1997). This negative interface provided to read the blogpost draws attention to the interface’s existence, and the characteristics of both software agents generally and Microsoft Office Assistants.

Since interactive simulations are experiential they are subjective, and users also cannot be assumed to encounter all parts of interactive media when parts are optional. However, a minimum amount of users’ interaction is here required to ‘hide’ Clippy after initial appearance against their direction. If ‘Clippy’ was instead utilised to verbalise the text blogpost’s arguments more directly, this would not have replicated the case study –a well-intentioned ‘help’ interface hampering users’ focus on generic/unconnected documents. Thus, its limitation is only communicating the text’s arguments indirectly – although experiencing phenomena may be more powerful than being told about them, relative to explicit text users’ subjective experiential responses are more unpredictable as to what they feel ‘communicated’. Like real Assistants it appears on top of users’ productive workspace, without proper integration into the program/blog. It distracts from, rather than augments the content, so much that readers might miss it entirely and not realise the intentional irony of Clippy’s depiction, or the greater nuances possible in the text arguments.

But this replicates actual Assistants‘ issues (as identified by Swartz (2003)):

– Getting in the way by being on top of the workspace.

– Distracting by making seemingly random animations at all times[4] (Dehn & Van Mulken, 2000; Serenko et al., 2007a).

– Being in an inappropriate task domain where users want to work/concentrate.

– Offering ‘help’ not customised to users’ actual skill level/desires.

– Offering ‘help’ when not asked.

– An interface to open Help functions which could have been opened without the Assistant (also Serenko et al., 2007a).

– Superfluous and unnecessary (Swartz, 2003; Serenko et al., 2007a).

‘Clippy’ – the default character, and only character in default Office installations – was implicated in (though not solely responsible for) Office Assistants‘ poor reception (Swartz, 2003). Thus its replication[5] afforded greater communicative/illustrative impact.

Like most users already grasped how to use Office or Windows XP without their Agents, most users would already understand concepts like blogs and scrollbars. But, like actual Agents, default illiteracy is assumed of users regarding the current context of blogs and their interfaces.

The user experience is intentionally negative, as befitting a case study Serenko (2007b) concluded “added little, if any, extra functionality; enjoyment potential was very limited; confused novice users; and distracted individuals from obtaining assistance” (p. 492). Illustrating this obsolete technology is still relevant as many concerns raised by critics (Weiser, 1992; Lanier, 1996; Shneiderman, 1997; Bolter, 2003;) of software agents generally persist (Eden, 2013), but non-embodied software agents’ actions, influences and removal of user-control frequently remain unnoticed by many users[6]. Users’ awareness of characteristics of software agents are heightened by this simulation, as Clippy’s implementation instead draws attention to such interfaces.

REFERENCES (cited in rationale):

Dehn, D. M., & Van Mulken, S. (2000). The impact of animated interface agents: a review of empirical research. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 52(1), 1-22.

Eden, T. (2013). The invisible Nightmare. [Blog post]. Retrieved from: [Accessed: 9 May 2014].

Franklin, S., & Graesser, A. (1997). Is it an Agent, or just a Program?: A Taxonomy for Autonomous Agents. In Müller, J., Wooldridge, M., & Jennings, N. (Eds.), Intelligent agents III agent theories, architectures, and languages. Paper presented at Intelligent Agents III Agent Theories, Architectures, and Languages: ECAI’96 Workshop (ATAL), Budapest, Hungary, August 12–13, 1996 (pp. 21-35). Berlin: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.  Retrieved from: [Accessed: 4 May 2014].

Lanier, J., & Maes, P. (1996). Intelligent Agents= Stupid Humans. HotWired, 29, 15-24. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 9 Apr 2014].

Liu, Y., & Shrum, L. J. (2002). What is interactivity and is it always such a good thing? Implications of definition, person, and situation for the influence of interactivity on advertising effectiveness. Journal of advertising, 31(4), 53-64.

Serenko, A., Bontis, N., & Detlor, B. (2007a). End-user adoption of animated interface agents in everyday work applications. Behaviour & Information Technology, 26(2), 119-132. Retrieved from:

Serenko, A. (2007b). The development of an instrument to measure the degree of animation predisposition of agent users. Computers in human behavior, 23(1), 478-495.

Shneiderman, B., & Maes, P. (1997). Direct manipulation vs. interface agents. Interactions, 4(6), 42-61. Retrieved from: [Accessed: 9 May 2014].

Swartz, L. (2003). Why people hate the paperclip: labels, appearance, behavior, and social responses to user interface agents (Dissertation, Stanford University). Retrieved from: [Accessed: 4 May 2014].

REFERENCES (in designing creative project):

Goguen, J. (2001). Are Agents an Answer or a Question?. In Proceedings of the JSAI-Synsophy International Workshop on Social Intelligence Design. Retrieved from: [Accessed: 4 May 2014].

Nwana, H. S. (1996). Software Agents: An Overview. Knowledge Engineering Review, 11(3), 205-244. Retrieved from: [Accessed: 11 May 2014].

Rountree, E. (2000). Using a scrollbar. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 29 Mar 2014].

Shneiderman, B., & Plaisant, C. (2005). Designing the user interface: Strategies for effective human-computer interaction (4th ed.). Boston: Addison Wesley.

Weiser, M. (1992, October). Does ubiquitous computing need interface agents. In Talk given at MIT Media Lab Symposium on User Interface Agents, Cambridge, MA, USA, 1992. Retrieved from: [Accessed: 8 May 2014].

REFERENCES (in blogpost):

Bolter, J. D., & Grusin, R. (2001). Remediation: Understanding new media. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Bolter, J. D., & Gromala, D. (2003). Windows and mirrors: Interaction design, digital art, and the myth of transparency. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Castells, M. (2010). The rise of the network society (2nd ed.). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Chao, D. (2001, March). Doom as an interface for process management. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems. Paper presented at CHI 2001 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Seattle, WA, 31 March – 5 April (pp. 152-157). New York, NY: ACM. Retrieved from: [Accessed: 4 May 2014].

Dinnen, Z. (2012). Androids in the academy.  Alluvium, 1(5).

Fletcher, D. (2010, May 27). The 50 worst inventions. Microsoft BOB. TIME Magazine. [online] Retrieved from:,28804,1991915_1991909_1991855,00.html [Accessed: 4 May 2014].

Fries, K., Linnett, B., & Powelson, L.  (1997). Software platform having a real world interface with animated characters. U.S. Patent No. 5,682,469. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Gentilviso, C. (2010, May 27). The 50 worst inventions. Clippy. TIME Magazine. [online] Retrieved from:,28804,1991915_1991909_1991755,00.html [Accessed: 4 May 2014].

Hall, L. (2001) Social Interface Agents. [online] Retrieved from:

Helmond, A. (2013). The Algorithmization of the Hyperlink. Computational Culture, 3.

Kuhn, W. (1996, August). Handling data spatially: Spatializating user interfaces. In Advances in GIS research II: Proceedings of the 7th International Symposium on Spatial Data Handling (Vol. 2, p. 13B). Retrived from: [Accessed: 4 May 2014].

Levinson, P. (1999) Chapter 11. Serfs to surf. In Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium (pp. 132–140). New York : Routledge

Lineback, N. (2013). Packard Bell Navigator 3.5. The Graphical User Interface Gallery [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 9 May 2014].

Manovich, L. (2001). The interface.  Interface Explorer – shared boundaries. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 10 May 2014].

Manovich, L. (2002). The language of new media. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

McCracken, H. (2009). The Secret Origins of Clippy: Microsoft’s Bizarre Animated Character Patents. PCWorld. Retrieved from:[Accessed 19 May 2014].

McCracken, H. (2010). The Bob Chronicles. PCWorld. Retrieved from: [Accessed 19 May 2014].

Merrick, R., & Richards, J. (1998). Virtual office with connections between source data machine, and a viewer objects. U.S. Patent No. 5,808,612. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved from: [Accessed: 4 May 2014].

Merrit, T. (2007). Top 10 worst products. CNET. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 4 May 2014].

Microsoft. (2012). Microsoft Agent-enabled programs do not work in Windows 7. Retrieved from: [Accessed 4 May 2014].

Pugh, T., & Aronstein, S. L. (2012). The Disney Middle Ages: A fairy-tale and fantasy past (pp. 199-200). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Robinson, P. (1984, February). Review: Magic Desk. InfoWorld, 6(7), pp. 43-44. Retrieved from: (2009). The Lumiere project: the origins and science behind Microsoft’s Office Assistant. Robotics Zeitgeist [online]. Retrieved from: [Accessed: 11 May 2014].

Seaward, M. (1998). Interactive assistants provide ease of use for novices: the development of prototypes and descendants. Computers in human behavior, 14(2), 221-237.

Serenko, A., Bontis, N., & Detlor, B. (2007). End-user adoption of animated interface agents in everyday work applications. Behaviour & Information Technology, 26(2), 119-132.

Serenko, A. (2007b). The development of an instrument to measure the degree of animation predisposition of agent users. Computers in human behavior, 23(1), 478-495.

Shneiderman, B., & Maes, P. (1997). Direct manipulation vs. interface agents. Interactions, 4(6), 42-61. Retrieved from: [Accessed: 9 May 2014].

Swartz, L. (2003). Why people hate the paperclip: labels, appearance, behavior, and social responses to user interface agents (Dissertation, Stanford University). Retrieved from: [Accessed: 4 May 2014].

Tofel, K. (2011). Could Siri be the invisible interface of the future?. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 8 May 2014].

Trower, T. (2010). Bob and Beyond: A Microsoft Insider Remembers. Technologizer. Retrieved from: from: [Accessed 26 Apr 2014].

Turkle, S. (2008). Always-on/always-on-you: The tethered self. In Katz, J. E. (Ed.), Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies (pp. 121-137). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Tynan, D. (2006, May 26). The 25 worst tech products of all time. PC World. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 4 May 2014].

Van Ittersum, D. (2008). Computing Attachments: Engelbart’s Controversial Writing Technology. Computers and Composition, 25(2), 143-164. Retrieved from: [Accessed: 4 May 2014].

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Warren, T. (2014). Microsoft’s Siri-like Cortana assistant demonstrated on video. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 20 Apr 2014].


Apple. (2011). Siri [iOS Software]. Apple.

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[1] I used Javascript, JQuery, XML, CSS, HTML and Photoshop to implement ‘Clippy’. Making Clippy appear on a blog (vs generic website) was more complicated and I ultimately installed WordPress on my own webspace and made blog templates from scratch to include the requisite modifications.

[2] Of course interactivity does not permit users complete ‘control’ of interfaces, only within what limits are designed in the program. But certain interface design such as that termed by Shneiderman (1997, 2005) as ‘direct manipulation’ aspires to give users a greater sense of control and agency toward the interface functions, whereas a software agent by definition places control and management of such functions, and decisions, outside control of the user.

[3] Like actual Assistants, the character will not be hidden until it has played a lengthy leaving animation sequence, which made some users assume closing it had failed (Swartz, 2003).

[4] Both Swartz (2003) and Dehn & Van Mulken (2000) observed that despite Assistants having ‘idle mode’ animations, since these still featured much distracting animation users could not discern the difference. Indeed, when Assistants’ activity reduced, some took it as a sign the computer had broken, as the Assistant was incorrectly taken as a signal the Office program itself was ‘working’ or ‘thinking’ (Swartz, 2003).

[5] The Terms of Service Agreement archived from Microsoft’s website in 2004 is at This allows reuse of the Agent characters’ animations (and associated sound effects) in 3rd party applications provided terms are met such as not modifying or adding to the character animation files, displaying the notice “(c) 1996-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.” with the Web site’s or application’s copyright information, not using them for unlawful purposes, not claiming Microsoft’s endorsement, etc. Although support for Microsoft Agent and its additional character downloads have been removed from Microsoft’s website, you can still download Clippit here as part of an Access 2003 applications development package: Similarly, the Office 2003 and Windows interface graphics can be used in 3rd party Windows applications (e.g. those developed in

The actual Microsoft Agent platform used for real Office Assistants was not used here, as it is no longer supported (despite that historically people could put Agents on their websites, even loading the official graphics off Microsoft’s own webservers). A Javascript port of the Agents’ animation engine (which could be freely used and modified, even in commercial contexts) was used.

The existing Javascript animation engine did not function like an Office Assistant but was merely a means to queue and play the Agents’ stock animations and had no way to even get interactive (e.g. HTML) dialogue for the balloons.

Thus I substantially modified this along with greatly extending the ‘speech balloon’ functionality, making it load selected dialogue HTML fragments from an XML file. I also integrated it with a mouseover menu, and the fake Office 2003-like ‘Help Window’ and ‘Dialogue Boxes’.

[6] Many software agents which are not personified in any way are not perceived as ‘Agents’, so even when critics may decry their influences, they do not see it as a problem with software agents generally. For example, programs which automatically update without users’ knowledge, or many ‘knowledge agents’ on websites suggesting ‘relevant’ content to users can be regarded non-anthropomorphised software agents.

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One Response

  1. Clippy says:

    It looks like you’re writing a blogpost.
    Would you like help?

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