The introduction of whimsical teasing in Comic Chat


A few months after my post on the sad demise of whimsical teasing in Comic Chat, I received a piece of email from none other than the author of Comic Chat, DJ Kurlander:

I was the person that started the Comic Chat project in Microsoft Research and was responsible for that line, "This person is too lazy to create a profile entry." Not a whole lot of thought went into the default profile. In maybe the 30 seconds that I put into it, I thought that the line was moderately humorous, fit with the quirky nature of Comic Chat, and might motivate more people to create profiles. When we released version 2, MSN got the following complaint. Yes, this is verbatim (and specifically in reference to the default profile):

I am very offended that this is type of code is allowed to leave microsoft. I am seriously considering dropping my subscription to MSN. I don't get this kind of crap from CompuServe, and I can get comparable Internet access from a local ISP. I can see that there is a serious lack of customer respect at microsoft and this is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

MSN was pretty conservative, at least at the time, and this caused a big headache for the team. How dare we insult our customers! Did the project not have enough management overhead? Can we make things any more difficult for the small team? Yes we can! As a result, we were required to remove the message from the 2.1 release. It became "This user has no profile." at least in the version that was released on the MSN CD-ROM.

Meanwhile, we got some advanced notice about an upcoming PC World review of the 2.0 version that had included the original message. The summary (which was emailed to us), said: "She [the reviewer] praises Microsoft for finally having a sense of humor (loves the note about being 'too lazy to have a bio' message). She claims Comic Chat is an absolute delight."

I love the part about MS finally having a sense of humor. Well at least we were allowed to add back the message for the 2.5 release!

Check out DJ's history of Comic Chat, which includes links to videos and other time-wasty goodness.

Bonus chatter: DJ also has a page on Peedy the Parrot, a research project to develop a more natural user interface. Out in the product groups, we just called it that stupid parrot demo because it became tiresome from overexposure, having been used in a CES keynote and multiple company meetings.

Comments (11)
  1. Charles Oppermann says:

    I would suspect that the string "This person is too lazy to create a profile entry" is also hard to localize, and I'm fairly certain that calling someone "lazy" carries various degrees of offense depending on the locale.  A real Geo-Poli issue.

    I had a informational interview with the team that was doing Comic Chat and a few other related research projects.  I thought it was interesting, but I didn't go for the job.

  2. Dog says:

    The problem with this kind of joke is: If you don't put them in, nobody will miss them. If you do, someone might be offended. So just don't, kthx.

  3. Robin Williams says:

    @Dog:  So you're saying… don't ever attempt humour?

  4. Cat says:

    So typical for dogs. They have no humor :P

  5. pete.d says:

    Reminds me of the sample movie I contributed to 3D Movie Maker. I included in the credits at the end a comment along the lines of "thank you to all the animators over the years who reused this plot over and over again" (paraphrase…I don't recall the exact wording).

    A PM on the project had a fit because she found the sentence rude or disrespectful or politically incorrect or some such.  But she refused to specify why it was.  Her complaint was more "I can't describe its offensiveness, I just know offensive when I see it".  Being young and idealistic at the time, I rejected her notion outright and insisted that the movie go into the product as authored, or not at all.

    In the end, she pointed to the words "over and over" as the crux of the problem.  She had originally insisted that the entire sentence be taken out, but finally agreed I could leave the rest in if I simply deleted those words.

    Fact is, there are always going to be people like that who spend far too much time parsing everything everyone says to within an inch of their lives, finding offense in every detail they can.  It's sad, really, both that such people exist, and that product groups waste time trying to appease them.

    Other things this all reminds me of:

     • In the early 90's, there was a German promotional poster for Microsoft Excel that was basically just a glamor shot of a leggy, leather-clad model with the product box/logo/something like that.  Oddly enough, some people in the Excel group had the poster and displayed it in various places in their offices.  A woman in the same group complained that the poster created a hostile work environment, and successfully lobbied HR to force the poster to be removed.

     • And of course, there are the religious people who get so mad at anyone else poking any fun at their religion at all that they swear to kill the offenders.  Not limited to Islam of course, but the "cartoons with Allah" comes to mind as a recent example.

    I could go on and on, but I think this comment is already too long.

  6. Dog says:

    Dogs have no humour? What about Humans!? I did a crap right in the middle of my owner's bed. Funniest thing ever! Did they laugh? Did they heck.

    It's lucky the WiFi works at the bottom of the garden, let me tell you.

  7. Gabe says:

    "People that do not use comic chat subject the characters to an unconscionable (and unethical) rift in the fabric of their being. Put another way, you have a moral obligation to keep these characters, which were created through no fault of their own, extant, vital, sentient, and replete with life. You will not, cannot, fail them!"

  8. Dave Bacher says:

    I had a bug filed on an old e-mail program, back in the fidonet days, that I was missing context sensitive help for a few fields.

    In the next version, the from address had help:

    From: This is your name.  If you don't know your name, consulting your socks may help.

    I think it is appropriate for a casual program — like Comic Chat — to be informal and casual.  If you want an IRC program that's serious, there's mIRC and whatever out there.  If you are going to take life seriously, you probably shouldn't be using comic chat. :)

  9. Me says:

    If you don't know your name, consulting your socks may help.

    Priceless.

  10. RotJ says:

    Any stories about Microsoft V-Chat, the 3D virtual world program that let users upload custom images for their animated 2D avatars?  I remember a significant number of its users had pornographic pictures for their avatars.

  11. You says:

    Huh!  Today I just learned about Comic Chat – what an ingenious idea!  I love how it attempts to generate comic panels that represent the conversation flow.

    I'd wager that a modern version using popular web-comic art would be great fun.

    The bit about empathizing with your avatar was interesting.  I wonder if anyone has ever attempted to use this sort of technology for online support.

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