Viewer 2 Basic mode – where next?

Opinions relating to the Basic mode available in Viewer 2 are mixed. While finding it usable in my original review, several aspects left me concerned as to how well it might fill the role for which it appears to have been designed. I specifically questioned the fact that beyond things like basic movement, the view controls and communicating, it has very little in common with the Advanced mode – and there is no obvious continuity in the assistance available for those who opt to start with Basic and come to the point where they want to transition.

One Small Step for a Viewer; One Giant Leap for the User

In fairness, getting to grips with the Viewer at the best of times isn’t easy; while Torley has produced some outstanding videos, these aren’t always easy to locate. Worse, the So-called Quick Start Guide suffers from a combination of having the wrong emphasis in part and missing important and basic information (like actually modifying your avatar’s appearance, rather than simply changing clothes). Also, it’s fair to say the Quick Start Guide hasn’t been updated to reflect the arrival of additional and attractive functionality, thus putting it further out-of-synch with the Viewer.

Put all of this together – the more intense UI of the Advanced mode, a less-than-helpful Quick Start Guide, only the broadest elements of commonality between the Basic and Advanced modes of the Viewer, etc. – and it becomes clear that moving up from the Basic mode to the Advanced mode is not so much a matter of taking the next logical step as it is about taking a leap of faith that the effort is going to be worth it. This considerably undermines the usefulness of the Basic mode.

If the Basic mode is to prove worthwhile, work needs to be put into providing some level of continuity between the two modes of the Viewer to help those making the transition. Indeed, with a little forethought, re-working where and how people get help in the Advanced mode may well assist those leaping straight into it, opting to avoid the Basic mode altogether.

Such continuity / general assistance could be achieved first and foremost by incorporating the HOW TO button with an expanded number of pop-ups (providing overviews of, say, the Sidebar, the revised Toolbar, the menus and the Favourites bar). Doing this would immediately achieve two things:

  1. It would provide needed continuity of approach to seeking help for those moving up to Advanced from Basic.
  2. It offers an obvious place to find basic help and information for those leaping into the Advanced mode of the Viewer and bypassing the Basic mode altogether.

All the pop-ups associated with HOW TO (both Basic and Advanced) should additionally contain links to the Viewer Quick Start Guide, where more in-depth information would still reside. These links should display a pop-up informing the user the QSG will be opened in their external browser (although the Advanced mode should still retain QSG access from the Sidebar as an option).

To further increase the relevancy of the QSG, it should be re-formatted into two sections: BASIC and ADVANCED:

  • BASIC should provide additional information relevant to the Basic mode and which is not included in the HOW TO pop-ups (such as the more familiar WASD keys being available for movement, information on the various icons that appear on the right of the toolbar, etc.)
  • ADVANCED should provide more in-depth information available to Advanced mode users
  • Where any overlap occurs between the two modes, simple visual indicators should be used to indicate options those options only available to the Advanced mode.

Help, Don’t Hinder

It is fair to say that the current QSG is encumbered by several problems:

  • It is out-of-date
  • It lacks key information users will want to know – such as instructions on physically altering an avatar, as mentioned earlier
  • It contains a lot of what might be regarded as extraneous information. For example, while one understands LL’s desire to promote Premium Accounts, is it really necessary to have the latter third of the QSG read like a brochure for Linden Homes – especially as there is already an entire section of the Sidebar given over to this very topic?

It would therefore seem preferable that any re-vamp of the QSG should also focus on ensuring it is updated to reflect more recent version of the Viewer and on assisting the user more effectively, rather than engaging them in a sales pitch for Premium Accounts.

Obviously, a better alignment of the two modes of the Viewer and overhauling the QSG will not solve all the problems inherent in joining Second Life – there are many other aspects of getting into SL that also need to be addressed over an above the Viewer itself.

However, changes like these should help to ease people into using the viewer and encourage a greater tolerance towards it by presenting a more easy-to-follow route into getting help and understanding the UI. In short, it will do more to help users in gaining familiarity with either mode of the Viewer, rather than possibly hindering them.

As stands, as long as the  disconnect between both modes of the Viewer remains, it is hard to see how the Basic mode can achieve any lasting positive impact on new users.

SL concurrency dropping

Tateru Nino reports that SL user concurrency is at its lowest point for two years.

Why this is the case is subject to some debate in the official forum. While it would be dangerous to blame any single factor for the decline anyway,the parallel between the implementation of LL’s more unpopular policies couldn’t be clearer. At the start of 2009, concurrency was on a high, as the Alphaville Herald shows. However, the start of that year saw what many took to be the final bait-and-switch tacttic in the OpenSpace fiasco, to be followed later in the year by the Adult Change debacle, which was at best handled with a certain degree of outright incompetence by Linden Lab,  and so on.

While things did rally a little at the end of the year, the downward trend continued throughout 2010, rallying briefly at the start of 2011 – mostly likely because of a combination of it being the holiday season (and people collectively the world over having more time to log-in) and hopes for the platform rising as a result of the announcement that Rod Humble had been appointed the new CEO.

However, Linden Lab aren’t solely to blame for the decline. much has happened to change the landscape of virtual worlds over the last 2-3 years. Blue Mars pitched up (albeit briefly) and carried a lot of attention away from Second Life – some of which is now drifting back). More importantly, OpenSim Grids started to show signs of maturity and stability. Some of these have become very attractive to SL content creators as being new and exciting markets in which to plunge; as a result of new content becoming available elsewhere, there has been a trend for people to start splitting their time between Second Life and other similar grids such as InWorldz that are now readily available. These other grids are also themselves more attractive to users because their pricing models significantly undercut Linden Lab’s own; whether such prices are sustainable as such platforms grow is debatable – but it cannot be denied that the absurdly high prices charged by LL for server space is limiting SL’s ability to grow, and is indicative that there does need to be a re-emphasis / re-alignments of LL’s revenue streams.

As well as spending more time elsewhere, or whatever reasons (and yes, it’s easy to point the finger and say, “I’m only in X because LL [fill in the blank]”, even when such a statement is not entirely accurate), the users of SL also share in some of the blame: this is a world that exists because we imagine it and create it – yet we seem to be failing ourselves in creating the kind of compelling content that once existed in SL.

What this decline does again demonstrate is that there needs to be a re-evaluation of the LL/ user relationship. If the downward spiral is to be halted, the Lab and the user community need to work more closely together, both in creating a stable, vibrant economy and in the promotion of Second Life to a wider audience. I don’t wish to appear to be blowing my own trumpet here – but the fact is that observations made in post such as Tell Me A Story… and Business, Growth and Collaboration aren’t exactly rocket science – and many SL commentators are saying more-or-less the same things in their own ways.

Stopping the decline is going to take a concerted effort – and no single thing is going to reverse it: not bouncing bewbs, not a revamped new user experience and certainly not mesh; nor is simply taking potshots at LL and blaming them for everything. Second Life is a boat we’re all sitting in together – Lab and users.

It would be nice if we could all start rowing together under the guidance of Coxswain Humble.