New users: the shared experience

Note: This article has been taken to mean I was unaware of the Community Gateway programme. Not so; rather I wanted to focus on the Destination Islands in this piece. As it is, and subsequent to this being published, a comment was passed elsewhere indicating the new Destination Islands are in fact something of a collaborative effort between the Lab and residents. 

“Shared” is a word that has gained increasing prominence where Second Life is concerned over the last year. We’ve had Rod Humble talking about “shared creativity” and more recently, Oz raising the issue of the “shared experience”.  Now there would appear to be an opportunity available for LL to come together with members of the user community to share creativity in order to develop a shared experience that can be of great potential benefit.

As I reported recently, LL have – at some point – launched a new range of “Destination Islands” to which new users are delivered. Currently, it’s hard to see what these regions actually achieve; they provide no introduction to SL, they don’t build on information given to the new user through the Viewer installation process, etc. As some have commented, they could even result in people thinking they’ve entered little more than a cartoon-based game with no obvious goal or function.

However, they are evidence that LL are still trying to address the issue of the “new user experience” by at least providing a means to direct newcomers to experiences they might be interested in. The problem is, the entire process is very hit-and-miss, and actually leaves much that is attractive about SL completely hidden – such as building and content creation.

New destination islands: low-key

It’s Not Easy

In fairness to the Lab, providing a means of supporting new users is no easy task. As we all tend to point out, SL cannot be taught in a day, and when one goes from talking about the “first hour experience” to the “first five hours experience” – as Mark Kingdon famously did – then something, somewhere is going more than a little pear-shaped when considering new users. At the same time LL have been presented with ample evidence that help centres that rely on direct user / user interaction don’t always work.

However, there is also a risk in going too far in the other direction as well and simply providing too little help and support – and this is the issue one tends to have with the new Destination Islands; they are minimalist in approach, both in terms of appearance and information, to the point of being mere way-stations that direct people elsewhere in SL without doing anything to help them understand where they are or what they might be doing.

How much better might it be if, rather than trying to deal with the “new user experience” without actually addressing it, LL were to seek to collaborate with the user community to provide a means by which new users entering Second Life for the first time are faced with an immersive, engaging experience that helps them understand the basic mechanisms in using the Viewer and the nuances of performing basic tasks SL before passing on elsewhere.

The Competitive Edge

This could be run as a form of a competition or a request for proposals (RFP) process, with Linden Lab providing a set of guidelines as to what is required, together with access to capabilities such as the new advanced creation tools, allowing those in the community to offer potential solutions / responses that meet the requirements /criteria in imaginative and innovative ways, with people free to work either individually or as a collaborative group.

Obviously, not every eventuality for user interaction in SL needs to be covered – just enough to get users reasonably acquainted with getting on with things in SL – and the experience could finish be delivering users to the style of portals currently positioned on the Destination Islands, allowing them to continue their adventures elsewhere. As such, potential criteria for the competition / proposal might be:

  • Provide users with sufficient information on using key aspects of the official Viewer 3.x UI – HOW TO, setting-up buttons, key menu options, etc.
  • How to walk, talk, IM perhaps leveraging HOW TO)
  • Provide an overview of inventory, including the basics of wearing clothing
  • Show how basic interaction with in-world objects work: opening doors, selecting and opening objects with contents
  • Use the advanced tools to demonstrate more advance interactions with in-world objects, such as opening an item and wearing the contents
  • Provide an introduction to building in SL, perhaps with some explanation of what sandboxes are

These criteria could be met through anything from simple read-and-do style notices, to practical demonstrations and / or by the user exploring an immersive build, where they walk a path of their choosing and encounter objects and information boards along the way and are encouraged to apply what they are learning along the way (an example of this might start with a simple door into a building / in a room with the words “click me” written on it to encourage someone to click & open it).

Linden Lab would then be free to select the entry / proposal that most closely fulfils their requirements and proceed to work with those responsible for the entry / proposal to develop and enhance the current Destination Islands.

Portals to more directed experiences might even be provided along the way; for example: those particularly drawn to in-world content creation might be offered a portal taking them to the Ivory Tower of Prims or on reaching the end of the experience, be offered a portal connected to various sandboxes across the grid.

In order to simplify understanding things like the UI, portals could perhaps be included to the gated Orientation Island regions (assuming these are to be continued, given there only appears to be one left & they could be made somewhat more relevant) or to platforms over the Destination Islands, where those who need it can obtain more in-depth guidance. In turn, portals from them could allow new users to find their way back to specific elements of the Destination Islands experience.

Gated Orientation Islands: fold them into the mix?

Such an approach potentially achieves three goals:

  • Relieve LL of the burden of having the physically devote a large amount of time and effort to the development of a “new user experience” while allowing them to retain control over how such an experience should be framed
  • Leverage the core experience and familiarity with SL that the user community has
  • Promote a collaborative, shared experience between the Lab and the user community that can be used to benefit new users, the community and the platform as a whole.

Add to that the capability to “regionalise” the experience by sign-up language (so that those whose primary language is, say, Portuguese, arrive in a Portuguese Destination Island for example), then so much the better. (This may already be the case for the current system, hence the number of Destination Islands already on the grid; I’ve simply no idea.)

Working in this manner isn’t entirely new to Linden Lab  – they’ve recently taken a similar approach elsewhere in terms of issuing an RFP. Admittedly, this approach might require a little more structure from LL to avoid cried of “foul!” from elsewhere – but providing the process is as transparent as possible, there is no reason why it shouldn’t result in a positive outcome. Were the approach to be run as a competition, involvement from users needn’t be limited to those presenting entries: there is no reason why selected users shouldn’t sit on the “judging panel”.

Some would inevitably find fault were LL to take the opportunity to generate a project this way, but overall, given the potential benefit it could bring, it’s hard to find a show-stopping fault with the idea.