Clippy’s dead, but KeyRocket resurrects the good bits

KeyRocket

Remember Clippy? The name may conjure up murderous impulses, but consider this: Microsoft created its much-loathed Office assistant with the best of intentions.

Products such Word and Excel have hundreds of time-saving shortcuts, and the fact is people don’t know most of them. With that in mind, a Berlin startup called Veodin Software has launched a new training tool called KeyRocket.

Mercifully, times have changed. For one thing, KeyRocket focuses purely on keyboard shortcuts, unlike Clippy, which seemed to appear at every possible opportunity.

“Microsoft tried to teach you the mainstream. ‘Are you writing a letter?’ Of course I am!” Veodin co-founder Jan Mechtel told me. “We do two things differently. One, we’re really relevant – we wait until we can show you something we know is relevant for you. The other thing is we do it subtly. We don’t move, roll into view and take the focus from everything.”

Indeed, KeyRocket’s little popup is notably less obtrusive than Clippy was. It’s also slightly gamified, which may make it more attractive to some users.

Here’s how it works: KeyRocket runs in the background and, when it sees that you’re going through the menus to access a function such as ‘find’ or ‘save’, it suggests the shortcut for that function. When you then use the shortcut, it congratulates you and moves a little rocket symbol further up a slider – after a few successful uses of the shortcut, it tells you that you’ve learned it, and stops bothering you about it.

Responding to the suggestions obviously takes time in itself, but Veodin maintains that KeyRocket saves time in the long run.

“For businesses, the advantage is that their employees are happy because they get a motivating and fun experience, and the second thing is that time is money. We save a lot of time,” Mechtel said. “Shortcuts are six seconds faster on average. The minimum is three seconds. That doesn’t take into account going to another ribbon; that’s just moving the mouse and clicking.”

For now, KeyRocket’s database offers around 1,600 Windows-only shortcuts for Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint. The lack of Mac support isn’t going to change for a while (“Right now we want a kickass Windows product”) but Veodin’s looking into extending the supported package list to the likes of Photoshop, Visual Studio, SAP and even software development environments.

And, in the future, the company wants to make KeyRocket a bit more proactive. Veodin employs a psychologist and it wants to use the resulting insights to profile its users, aggregate the data and figure out which functions might be worth suggesting to each user.

The company’s also working on creating new shortcuts for the Microsoft and Adobe programs it targets.

“Right now we try to bring users and software closer together by teaching the users,” Mechtel said. “Eventually want to bring the two together by changing the software, for example by adding a shortcut that didn’t exist. For example, if we observe that you always do bold and underline at the same time, nothing stops us from saying, ‘Do you want that to be default behaviour, so when you bold we also underline it?'”

Unlike the trialware model Veodin tested during the KeyRocket beta, the final product is free for all non-commercial use. The plan is for business customers to be honest enough to pay for their use on an annual basis — doing so would also come with other benefits, such as extra help from Veodin in supporting and updating mass deployments.

The year-old company’s funding so far consists of a €100k university grant, which has kept the eight-strong team going until now. More seed funding is apparently en route.

Clippy was a disastrous mascot for shortcut training, but it is a bit silly having hundreds of shortcuts at your disposal and not using them. As long as it stays on the right side of the utility/annoyance divide, KeyRocket may achieve what the cursed paperclip could not.

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