Web Profiles: Major updates ahead

I actually started writing this post back last week, but abandoned it for lack of in-depth information as to whether we were seeing something new or something abandoned that had accidentally resurfaced. However, after attending today’s mysecondlife.com User Group meeting, I’m now more confident in going to press – even if the news is now rather old!

Essentially, in the next few weeks our web profiles will be turning a lot more “social” in their look, feel and capabilities. With the “new” Profiles, people will be able to:

  • Link more closely to any other social networking identities they may have & which they wish to connect to their SL identity (e.g. Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, etc.)
  • Allow people to comment on their own and other profiles (subject to permissions being set) in a Twitter-like manner
  • Manage their Friends and Group lists through the web profile as well as in-world
  • Upload snapshots directly to their web profile.

Some of these changes can already be seen on my-demo.secondlife.com, although the more recent code updates appear to be only available if you actually physically log-in to the Beta grid and use the new profiles through the in-viewer browser.

Several of the new features look to be well-considered and have been much-requested: the ability to manage Friends lists for example. Others are likely to prove more questionable among the masses – and indeed are already generating concerns.

Feed option

The Feed Option

The Feed option is most analogous to Twitter in many respects. Essentially it allows those to whom you give permission (defined as a Friends only, or anyone in SL or anyone coming across your profile while browsing the web) to leave a comment on your profile. Replies to comments can also be made – as shown in the example above.

This has already given rise to concerns about spammers abusing the system and people finding their feeds filled up with ads for tat, tosh and trinkets. However, this can be mitigated against by adjusting the privacy settings for the Feed option (setting it to just “Friends” – which really, it should be by default).

Another concern with the Feed is that if it is used via the in-viewer browser and Viewer 2 / a V2 TPV, your in-world location is automatically appended to the message you send out. This is something that did not prove to be popular among those attending the my.secondlife.com user group meeting today, doubly so when it became apparent that the option to transmit your location is opt-out, rather than opt-in, and that there is currently no blanket opt-out option: you must do so message by message. However, Fredrik and Teddy Linden, attending the meeting on LL’s behalf, appeared to take concerns about the opt-out rather than opt-in situation on-board, with Fredrik commenting:

[11:41] Frederico (fredrik.linden): again, we want to help people socialize and stay up to date with what’s happening in Second Life. Location does that, and we want to push it. we’ll be sure to tweak the opt in/out before we go live to agni

Given that people will be able to comment on your profile, the new system includes options to notify you when someone does so – you can elect to be notified in-world and/or via e-mail and these options can also be set should someone comment after you or comments on a message you leave on another person’s profile.

Faster, smaller, neater

Fredrik (left) and Teddy Linden at the my.secondlife.com User Group meeting

A repeated complaint about the web profiles, and I’m as responsible as anyone here, is that they a) take far too much time to load when using the in-world browser (4 seconds on average for me – others have reported up to 10 seconds on busy regions) and b) they take up far too much screen real estate. Again, LL appear to be listening to these concerns, with both Teddy and Fredrik giving assurances that the “new” profiles will be faster on loading and “more integrated” into the Viewer.

The new profiles are not ready for prime-time as yet: the data used at my-demo.secondlife.com is from the Beta grid, and thus is very stale for many users (other than those who routinely spend a good deal of time logged-in to it). More work is required on various aspects of the new look – and both Fredrik and Teddy seemed keen to take on board as much feedback from the UG meeting as they could – presumably so that it could be fed-in to the development process in the lead-up to the release some time in the next few weeks.

Right now it is unclear (at least to me) as to which page / tab will be the item others see when looking at your profile; “Home” would appear to be the obvious choice, but given this is essentially a blank page with a feed box in it, it would appear somewhat redundant. The ABOUT tab appears more informative – and it is actually hard to understand why this isn’t, by default, the “home” page for a profile.

Home page (l) and About tab

Overall, the new-look profiles offer much of promise and provide a set of potentially useful social networking options. A part of me wonders as to how effectively they will be used, however – those that want to extend some of their SL contacts and activities into the “pure” social networking space are probably already at home with the likes of Plurk and Twitter, and may not be overly attracted to the new profiles unless deeper integration with their preferred communications medium are available, or all their existing contacts can be persuaded to swap over or get involved. For many SL users however, there is a risk that these additional bits and pieces will be at best ignored, as they don’t have any place in their in-world lives, or at worst seen as a complete distraction.

For my part, I do find it hard to believe that things like the Feed will do much to pull me away from Twitter (and to a lesser extent, as I don’t use it so much, Plurk) – it simply isn’t as convenient a tool to use. However, I do like other aspects of the new profiles; overall the new tabbed approach is a lot cleaner and easier to grasp. I also look forward to seeing just how LL tweak the profiles for “better integration” with the Viewer as a whole.

I’m also curious as to how the Firestorm team will respond to these changes – if at all. Currently, Firestorm takes profile information and displays it in a Viewer 1-style window within the browser. This actually works a lot better than the in-browser approach – but will it be able to display all the new widgets and options, or will Jessica and the team opt to leave that to using web profiles through the in-viewer browser.

My Profile in my-demo.secondlife.com

13 thoughts on “Web Profiles: Major updates ahead

  1. I like the preview of the new profiles a lot. But I did read (forget where, sorry!) an interesting complaint earlier today… that so much of the in-world experience is being moved off-world… profiles in a web browser… shopping on Marketplace.SL instead of in-world… that we’re slowly making the virtual world “better”… by moving out of it…

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    1. @Vaneeesa: Not to mention Mesh, which requires one to build things in an external graphics program and upload them to SL. (It’s not unique in that regard of course–animations, sculpties, textures, etc– but it’s one more reason to spend your SL logged out of SL, if you take my meaning.)

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    2. Actually, this point was raised at the my.secondlife.com user group meeting. There are promises to make the web profiles less “stand apart” when seen through the in-viewer browser, and to improve the loading speed. These might help negate the feeling of having to “leave” SL to view a profile – time will tell.

      It’s hard to see how the profiles can be “better integrated” into the Viewer as Fredrik and Teddy state they will be – unless LL are going to take a leaf from Firestorm’s book…

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      1. It’s very easy to imagine a better integration in the Viewer if user Profiles get smaller – and Fredrik said Profiles will get smaller in the next Viewer release.

        No Fear.

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        1. “Integration” is more than simply resizing the in-viewer window, however – or at least it is to me. I’m all for a smaller window size and faster loading, as Fredrik and Teddy indicated.

          However, “integration” (to me) means the window should also have the look and feel of the rest of the Viewer UI & whatever skin I choose to use. Unless LL *are* going to take a leaf out of Firestorm’s book (which might be seen as them taking a step backwards in some circles), it’s hard to see how web profiles, viewed through the in-viewer browser can actually be properly “integrated” with the rest of the Viewer’s look / feel.

          Shall await developments with interest!

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  2. One thing is to replace aspects of the in-world viewer with easy-to-upgrade HTML pages (remember, hard-core viewer developers are expensive; HTML/PHP developers are dime-a-dozen). That’s something that is really a “must-do” these days: changing a few snippets of HTML on-the-fly instead of programming a very complex interface in the viewer is way, way easier, and doesn’t require a viewer upgrade (also, it provides consistency across TPVs too, which won’t need to upgrade all the code, but just the core functionality) — I anxiously expect the day where all elements except the 3D viewport are done in HTML.

    The other thing is to fix the incredible webpage loading time of the built-in WebKit viewer. I noticed that the less Internet Plug-Ins I’ve got installed, the faster it is. But 4-10 seconds to wait for a page to load is way too much; in my case it’s more like 18-30 seconds, and it should be irrelevant of sim or even viewer lag. So there is a big issue somewhere in the code, and this hasn’t been fixed since SL 2.0 came out, because you can open the very same URLs outside SL and they are fast enough. What exactly is wrong seems to be impossible to fix. I suspect some DNS issues, which would make this problem invisible and impossible to reproduce to LL (at the ‘Lab, perhaps all pages load blindingly fast), but it might actually be much complex than that.

    The third thing is to “move out of the virtual world”. Well, I obviously agree that the Web is a poor replacement for 3D interactivity! While I like to browse across SL Marketplace, it’s simply not the same experience than in-world shopping; that’s why eBay and Amazon.com might be online giants, but people still go to malls for shopping. It’s the experience that counts, and that should not be replaced.

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  3. In general, I’m loving the look of the new social profiles.

    The one thing that I have a little bit of concern about is the way we make and see profile comments.

    As I understand it, anyone can go to anyone else’s profile and make a comment which they can see on their ‘feed’ page. They have to physical choose to go and make that comment to them on their profile (much like @ing someone on Twitter). However, on the ‘home’ page in our profiles we we see ALL comments from people on our friends list. In other words, if one of our friends makes a comment on their own profile feed, we’ll see it on our ‘home’ page in our profile (so friends become much like people we follow in Twitter terms).

    My issue with this is the assumption that to see something someone else is saying they need to be a ‘friend’ and hence on our friends list. Maybe i’m a little old fashioned, but I see a distinction between ‘friends’ and ‘people who are saying stuff i’m interested in’. Much like Twitter, I’d prefer to see some method whereby we can ‘follow’ other people to see what they are saying on their profile feeds in a meaningful timeline. I don’t necessarily want to have to add loads of people to my friends list to see what interesting stuff they are saying.

    Alternatively, LL could consider something that has been banded around for a while. The ability for us to organise the ‘friends’ list into groups so, for example, we could have ‘friends’, ‘work colleagues’, ‘business contacts’ etc. We could choose how we want to see profile comments from their various groups on our profile home page (or timeline). This is something akin to what Google+ are now doing with ‘Circles’.

    I love the fact that LL are introducing these social elements, but I fear they are a little behind the times. For them to be meaningful I think they need to look at these elements other sical networks use that make ‘following’ and seeing what other peole are saying easier. If done well, it could even negate much of the need for group chat and group notices.

    Essentially, what I’d love to be able to do is ‘follow’ someone via their profile, then be able to check one distinct place on my own profile to see what the people i’ve followed have been saying. I can see new releases from merchants I like (negating the need for group subscriptions), comments from my friends, interesting chat from people discussing SL developments etc.

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    1. Agreed.

      The lack of overall flexibility in being able to simply “follow” and review comments and announcements through a single channel divorced of the need to Friend others is the major reason I don’t see this swaying those of us who already have engaged with tools such as Twitter, and why the Feed service could well be seen as a “meh” option by those in SL who haven’t as yet.

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    2. Can’t reveal too much yet, but we will introduce more features after this release that will allow you to create non-user profiles (i.e stores, places, artists) that you can post as/to. Users will then have the ability to follow those pages and get updates from those pages in their Home feed. That way we get the best of both worlds! Will reveal more when we start implementing the features.

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      1. Fredrik, thanks for the input & taking the time to read the article and comments.

        Very much look forward to watching how the new profiles develop, and will be sure to poke my nose into more UG meetings in the future :).

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