Why People Hate the Paperclip: Labels, Appearance, Behavior, and Social Responses to User Interface Agents

Luke Swartz
Honors Thesis for Symbolic Systems Program, Stanford University
Professor Clifford Nass, Advisor

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Abstract: User interface agents are increasingly used in software products; perhaps the best-known user interface agent is the Microsoft Office Assistant ("Clippy the Paperclip"). This thesis explores why many people have a negative response to the Office Assistant, using a combination of theoretical, qualitative, and quantitative studies. Among the findings were that labels--whether internal cognitive labels or explicit system-provided labels--of user interface agents can influence users' perceptions of those agents. Similarly, specific agent appearance (for example, whether the agent is depicted as a character or not) and behavior (for example, if it obeys standards of social etiquette, or if it tells jokes) can affect users' responses, especially in interaction with labels.
© 1998-2003 by Luke Swartz. All Rights Reserved.