Nostalgia is a funny thing. It pops up in the strangest of places and has us pining after the strangest of things. Microsoft Clippy, Office’s chirpy paperclip assistant, last seen around the turn of the millennium, is one such strange exercise in longing. Why we pine after a shape-shifting paperclip with basic ask-and-response skills is something that sits outside of common logic and reason. There are plenty of us who do though, and yesterday, for a brief moment at least, it looked as though an old friend was on the comeback trail.
Microsoft briefly brought Clippy back and then sent him packing again
You have to feel for poor old Clippy. He was quite popular back in the day and it must have looked like he was due another day in the sun when Microsoft was searching for a character to front its AI assistant project. The poor fella’s hopes were dashed though, when Microsoft instead went with Cortana, the Master Chief’s ever-present AI friend and assistant from the hugely popular Halo series. Clippy still holds hard feelings against whoever leaked the project’s Cortana code name to the press, thus setting the wheels in motion for Cortana to front the project permanently.
Last week will have been a new low for the 90s era “AI” assistant because, as they say, it is the hope that kills you.
Last week, a Clippy sticker pack appeared for Microsoft Teams on Microsoft’s Office GitHub page. The stickers were available to Teams users who could download and import them, then add pictures of Clippy to their chats and conversations. It looked as if these sticker packs could have been the beginning of a new era for Clippy. It really did look like we would finally be seeing the Clippy we always wanted to see.
As the guys at Ars Technica so keenly pointed out about the platform where the Clippy stickers appeared, “Teams, an interface that’s conversational and text heavy, is the perfect venue for a new Clippy.” He wouldn’t have needed the headline slot that belongs to Cortana, just a small corner of the Microsoft ecosystem to do his thing and respond to our questions and turn himself into an envelope or whatever. Teams was the perfect place for Clippy and that was where he appeared. It all fit together nicely.
Then it all came crashing down. According to a Microsoft statement released to The Verge, “Clippy has been trying to get his job back since 2001, and his brief appearance on GitHub was another attempt… While we appreciate the effort, we have no plans to bring Clippy to Teams.” Before Clippy had even had a chance to make a name for himself, Microsoft’s “Brand Police” had taken down the GitHub page offering the Clippy sticker packs. His chance was taken away in the blink of an eye.
That brief moment of light, however, could be the dawn of a new day for the little guy. Back when he lost out on the Cortana gig, it was a press leak that set off a wave of public support and petitions, which eventually led to Microsoft sticking with Cortana for the AI assistant position. There is a chance yesterday’s brief appearance on Teams could have a similar effect for Clippy.
Teams users aren’t happy that Clippy has been taken away from them. They’ve even started a petition asking for Clippy to be brought back. If you stand with them and if you stand with Clippy, you can sign the petition to bring him back here.