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Karl Klammer: The story of the paper clip that everyone hated

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The digital assistant Karl Klammer was supposed to explain Microsoft Word to users. But his opinionated behavior made him one of the most unpopular objects in the history of technology.

Nobody likes know-it-alls. Seldom has anyone felt this as clearly as the talking paper clip from Microsoft’s Office suite. After all, anyone who started the Word text software in the nineties only had to hit the keys a few times to get to know Karl Klammer – yes, that was the real name of the animated office utensil. “Apparently you want to write a letter. Need help?” Asked the clip. How nice, you thought – and clicked away the message. Where did you stop? Oh yes. But no sooner had you finished writing the sentence than the bracket spoke up again. And again. And again.

The comic paper clip – it was called “Clippy” in the English language original – offered its help at every opportunity, whether you wanted it or not. But the cute look couldn’t hide the fact that the assistant was an intrusive pain in the ass. He fidgeted around the edge of the screen until someone reacted to him or at least annoyed him clicked away. If he was punished with disregard, he would occasionally turn into a bicycle. Nobody knows exactly why.

The origin of Karl Klammer …

Karl Klammer first appeared on CRT monitors around the world in the late 1990s. It was a time when computers were not a matter of course in every living room and many people had never used word processing software. Microsoft wanted to take the fear of this new, possibly confusing world with playful ease. And what would look friendlier than a paper clip with knobbly eyes, they seemed to think in Redmond.

But good Karl had exaggerated it. Because he was not only quick to annoy you with his opinionated manner, he was also anything but helpful. If you answered “yes” to the infamous question of whether you wanted to write a letter, you only saw a gray menu at the end of which a standard letter template was waiting. It was rarely useful.

Then there was his passive-aggressive aura. Because in an almost exaggerated friendly tone, he pointed out the obvious. The well-intentioned helper became a trauma for a whole generation of PC users.

… his end …

By the way, behind Karl and his friends (there was also a dog, a drawn cat and a magician) is the computer scientist Eric Horvitz, who is still working at Microsoft today as a leading scientist (Chief Scientific Officer) and the developments in the field of artificial intelligence drives forward. In a sense, Karl Klammer was one of the first steps in this direction. Horvitz should have learned a lot from his failure. In retrospect, he admitted that he had gone too far and “negligently dealt with the attention of users”, the technology portal “Heise” quotes him.

Karl Klammer was part of the Office world until 2007, when Microsoft had mercy. Three years later, “Time” magazine called the paper clip one of the worst inventions of all time. “The presumptuous office assistant made its debut in Microsoft Office 97 as an acrobatic virtual paper clip that was ready to help with the completion of every task,” the authors write in their reasoning. “The only problem was that Clippy had trouble holding his tongue. As soon as the word ‘love’ appeared on the page, he went into letter-writing mode and was ready to structure a person’s most intimate thoughts.”

.. and the quiet comeback

Last year, Clippy and Karl Klammer experienced a comeback that went unnoticed by many users. For Microsoft’s chat service “Teams”, which experienced a real boom in many companies in the wake of the Disease, there is a sticker package with Karl Klammer motifs. After all, the good guy stays mute this time.

Swell: Time, Hot

Further parts of the technical history:

– The 20 year old who invented the iPhone browser

– From factory worker to pirate king: the man who destroyed the music industry

– Project Ara was supposed to become the most revolutionary smartphone – and it crashed

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