Independent Activity 1: Virtual Agents

a) Look at a web site that has a virtual assistant e.g. Anna at or one of the case studies at Digital Animations Group (DAG) at who specialize in developing a variety of online agents and answer the following questions.

- What does the virtual agent do?

A virtual agent acts as an animated online personal assistant who can help answer your product and service questions.

What type of agent is it?

Anna is a virtual agent

Does it illicit an emotional response from you? If so what kind?

Anna’s expression and body language portrays an initial emotional response of being cute, interested in what you ask, keen to help, however after asking a few questions and getting frustrated by the results I start to feel stupid asking a drawing for answers. I would much more prefer a traditional search result with rankings.

What kind of personality does it have?

Anna doesn’t really have any personality at all. It is all very ingenuous and forced as far as her look is concerned. She just repeats the same facial expressions and tilt of her head as if interested in a continuous loop.

How is this expressed?

Facial expressions and a tilt of her head is the extent of Anna’s personality.

What kind of behavior does it exhibit?

Anna doesn’t exhibit any kind of behavior she just responds with scripts to the screen. She is robotic

What are its facial expressions like?

Anna has a smile on her face and her eyes blink at you

What is its appearance like? Is it realistic or cartoon-like?

While Anna is a cartoon drawing it is done in a realistic style

Where does it appear on the screen?

Anna appears in a new pop up window

How does it communicate with the user (text or speech)?

With Anna you just type your questions into a text box and you receive a text reply with the number 1 only search result to your question, which can most likely be wrong.

Is the level of discourse patronizing or at the right level?

The level of discourse is just factual, it is not patronizing.

Is the agent helpful in guiding the user towards making a purchase or finding out something?

The agent is not helpful at all as far as I am concerned. A proper search engine result page would be much more useful.

Is it too pushy?

Anna is not pushy, she just returns the top search result only, which can be frustrating when the item you are interested ends up being the second ranked search result and as such you never see it on the screen.

What gender is it? Do you think this makes a difference?

Anna is female. I consider this decision was based on a female seeming less threatening and softer which would help compensate for it being just an animated character to a certain extent based on psychological studies

Would you trust the agent to the extent that you would be happy to buy a product from it or follow its guidance? If not, why not?

I wouldn’t trust the agent any more than I would trust any marketing gimmick used by any company who main interest is in separating me from my money. I think you would have to be pretty naïve to think just because a drawing looks cute and inoffensive that you must trust anything it says. Personally I have a deep mistrust of any product that relies on gimmicks rather than quality for the price as its prime pretext.

What else would it take to make the agent persuasive?

It would take the agent to be a real person, that knows their products inside out and who has the authority to offer discounts on the spot to ensure a sale to make the agent actually persuasive.

Virtual Agents