New Destination Islands – help or hinder?

In a low-key move, Linden Lab has rolled-out what appears to be a “new” new user experience and which seems to utilise some of the new game controls LL are shortly to be rolling-out to the community as a whole. However, what it is precisely aimed at doing is unclear.

On signing-up to Second Life, new users (or those with a new avatar account) are now delivered to one of 24 Destination Islands.  Like Linden Realms, these are a group of identical regions, each containing mesh trees from the game, with a central coliseum-like structure towards the centre which forms the arrival-point for new users.

Once of the new Destination Islands

No real explanation is provided as to what the place represents or how to use it. Arrivals are instead presented with a series of glass-like doorways with arrows and footprints leading to them, and each with is own label.

Information slides for those installing the SL Viewer for the very first time following sign-up

True, as a part of installing the Viewer for the first time (the download being a part of the sign-up process), new users are treated to a series of slides that provide a little more detail on using SL (see selected screen captures above), and they’ll have the Destination Guide open once they’ve logged-in to SL – but that’s it. Within the Destination Island areas there are no hints, tips or tutorials available to help the new user – there are just the seven doors (Art, Role-playing, Popular, Social, Music, Editor’s Picks and Adult), arrows and footprints.

Magical mystery tour

Walking through a portal will do two things: open the world-map at a potential destination and auto-teleport your avatar to a destination. Unless you’re using an unverified adult account and try the Adult portal. In this case you’ll simply get a flat nose and no explanation as to why. While an e-mail on this subject of adult verification is sent out to users as a part of the sign-up process, it would be nice if walking-into the door with an unverified account popped-up some kind of explanation rather than leaving people bouncing off the portal for no readily apparent reason.

Passing though other doors drops you into a destination based on the portal’s category. These appear to be selected at random from the Destination Guide. The process doesn’t seem entirely smooth: the world map opens during teleport (or it did for me. Twice), only to close on arrival. This is something that doesn’t happen in Linden Realms, so if the system i use at the Destination Islands is the same as the auto-teleport function used within LR, I assume this is a glitch that will be fixed, rather than a “feature” of the auto-teleport function.

Once you’ve left the Destination Islands there is no way back. Any attempt to teleport directly to them (assuming a new user understand the concept of teleporting) is met “Teleport Failed. You cannot teleport back to Help Island. Go to ‘Help Island Public’ to repeat the tutorial” and an OK button. Hence why you’ll have to create a new account if you want to test the system yourself.

OK, where next? What next?

This isn’t the solution you’re looking for?

Much – perhaps too much – has been made of the new user experience over the past few years. We’ve had talk of the “first hour”, the “first five hours” and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, “the first five minutes”. From comments he’s passed, it’s clear that Rod Humble is swayed towards the latter – that if you don’t capture the heart and mind of a new user in the first five minutes, then you’ve potentially lost them forever.

I’m not about to debate his wisdom on that one – but I will say that it’s hard to see how this approach actually improves matters. While one doesn’t necessarily need to have masses of information on display at the Destination Islands, having at least some guidance provided would, I’d have thought, be beneficial. Of course, this may be coming – in which case LL have rather put cart before horse in hooking-up the new islands to the sign-up process ahead of the information arriving.

This is where I think LL missed a step in merging-up the Basic and Advanced modes of the Viewer. In the former, we had a very good introductory series of tutorials in the form of the HOW TO pages. At the time I felt these could be enhanced, but overall they provided a good starting-point. While HOW TO is still evidenced in the Viewer in the form of a button – it would be useful if the installation process at least drew attention to it. Much better would be for HOW TO to be open by default until the first time it is manually closed (as with the Destination Guide). It wouldn’t solve all the issues in getting new users semi-oriented to SL, but it would at least help them feel comfortable with the Viewer UI – not everyone is happy with randomly pushing on-screen buttons and seeing what happens.

My experience demonstrated that people arriving at the same destination as myself were very confused as to what was happening and what they were supposed to be doing. The flow of people into the region I arrived in was fairly steady, but all of those stating they had just joined SL (and the number was around one or two arriving every few minutes) all pretty much had the same three questions:

  • What just happened?
  • Where am I?
  • What am I supposed to be doing?

Few had actually appreciated there was a HOW TO button (more-or-less the first thing I directed them to), and I found that doing so, and pointing them to functions such as Search,  was greeted with verbal facepalming, e.g.: “Well, it would help to be told that from the start!”

It’s hard to see how this system relates to the Public Help Islands, which are still active. There are no links between the two (other than the message displayed when trying to teleport directly to a Destination Island, as described above). Whether information from PHI will be incorporated into the Destination Islands is an unknown and remains to be seen.

Right now, I’m curious as to where this idea is going. Is it offered-up as delivered, or will there be enhancements based on feedback or observation (and if based on feedback, where do people give it?). As it stands, it’s hard to see how this system helps new users – although LL are doubtless in a far better position to make a call on this than my casual observations. I can’t help feel the approach, as currently presented is potentially as much a hindrance as anything else, and getting to grips with SL is still a matter of dogged determination on the part of those signing-up.

But then, this isn’t the easiest of issues to address, as we’ve seen over the years.

I’d like to keep an eye on if / how the new regions develop. As such I’ve held back with a new account on one of the islands to see if anything changes. If it does, I’ll be following-up here.

Related Links

New users: the shared experience