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.

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22 thoughts on “New users: the shared experience

  1. But Inara, they had all this with the Community Gateways. And they closed them down.

    Some people still run what are, in effect, Community Gateways – the structures at Virtual Ability are awesome, and Caledon Oxbridge is a whole university of Second Life. But many have now downgraded them – London’s Hyde Park is still a great place to meet and greet, but the tutorials that were at its heart are now to one side. I’m sure many others have fallen into disrepair (not updated for Viewer 3, for example) or have been abandoned altogether.

    The people who set up the Community Gateways were enthusiastic, energetic, and willing to make a financial contribution to Second Life of no mean order. Do you think they’d be willing to make that sort of commitment again, without – at the very least – cast iron guarantees that this time a project won’t be abandoned with eighteen hours notice? And would the Lab be prepared to give those?

    I would love to see projects developed by partnerships between residents and the Lab. I have a whole pile of ideas – and designers who have been sharing ideas with me – who would love to talk to the Lab about ways of growing Linden Homes. We’ve featured furnishing for Linden Homes in every single issue of the magazine since they launched; we’ve had pavilions at the Home and Garden Expos and Second Life Birthday Bashes promoting Linden Homes, so I think we’ve got something of a good track record there. But I’m not holding my breath.

    I think, at the moment, we are seeing the Lab taking baby steps in this direction – wiser not to run, perhaps, considering past history. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

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    1. Yes,

      Aware that much of this was provided by community gateways – and some residents are trying to continue the tradition.

      The idea mooted here is more to do with the way the Destination Islands appear to have been developed, given that Community Gateways more-or-less have gone.

      I agree, overcoming the past is an issue LL have to face up to; but willingness needs to be shown on both side, otherwise the current situation will remain unchanged. LL will keep to a path of minimal engagement, users will continue to perceive them as not caring.

      That said, from comments received post-release of this piece, it now appears that some users have been involved in the Destination Island project and it is a case of LL’s running with the “launch, test, polish approach”. Which is good, although still tends to leave new users coming through the door (and we’re told that’s been peeking at 20K-a-day) hanging on the air.

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  2. I used to be a mentor. The problem was that whatever the lab did retention statistics never improved, with mentors, no mentors, dump the newbies in a well or light them on fire .. the same percentage stayed or left. What’s next .. dump the users randomly on the mainland and shrug?

    Personally I know many who wouldn’t have stayed without the personal welcome. I only made it to SL on my second attempt, my first almost a year previous failed as I got lost, confused and saw no one. My actual virtual birth only succeeded as I had someone on the inside get me started.

    On your first day SL is SOCIAL.

    Bring back mentors, bring back live help, if the lab aren’t going to take the new user experience seriously at least let the residents who do be involved.

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    1. Currently the new Destination Islands do tend to dump newbies in a region as you describe (although not necessarily mainland, and at least with some attempt context). More is promised (apparently), but again, this is something that seems to be being developed on the QT and as a result of closed-door arrangements between Lab and users. Nothing against that per se, but does tend to lead people into a lot of wrong impressions when it happens.

      I saw this idea as a half-way house between what has gone before and what we currently have; burned fingers in some quarters notwithstanding. We’ll just have to see what develops.

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    2. I agree with Trinity! My initial experience on the old old Orientation Island led me to abandon SL. About six weeks later, I tried again. This time I managed to find my way off the island. A helpful resident struck up a conversation with me at the Infohub where I arrived. He took me to the Free Dove and showed me how to shop. I was hooked! And all because of a few minutes of friendly, personal help.

      The Community Gateways still in active operation provide this in-person, one on one assistance. Unfortunately, I get the impression that places like Caledon Oxbridge and White Tiger Help Island are getting more difficult for the newcomer to find, given the way the new “input funnel” is set up.

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      1. There is no substitute for personal help. Most of us can relate to that.

        I’m really not sure where the new system is going. Currently, it just seems limited and down to chance. More is apparently coming, so guess it’ll be a case of suck-it-and-see. I’ll be keeping the 2nd alt I created to look at the system sitting at a Destination Island to see what transpires.

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  3. I was going to say that you’ve basically described Community Gateways, but Saffia covered that better than I ever could. When LL pulled the rug out from under Community Gateways, it left a lot of people feeling quite disillusioned — nothing new there, but with that history others should think twice before investing substantial money and time in doing what is really the Lab’s job.

    On Friday at VWBPE, a group of teachers and middle school students gave some of us a noob’s whirlwind tour of WoW. It was awesome, very different from what I’d expected. One of the most striking aspects was how fast the game started teaching my new character what to do, and how effortlessly it provided new lessons with baby-steps of additional difficulty. Total contrast to the noob experience at SL, which at best is a series of confusing tutorials and at worst is a nightmare.

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    1. Yup

      I’m fully aware of the Community Gateways. See reply to Saffia. Perhaps it’s not clear from the article above, but I don’t see there being a financial cost to users: LL would meet the cost for the Islands (as I had assumed they were doing at present).

      This doesn’t necessarily overcome the trust issue, but assuming it were to be the case, then it is one barrier removed.

      If neither side is prepared to move on things but take a “been there done that, not again” attitude – however justified either side may feel – then it’s hard to see much in the way of motion / improvement.

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  4. It would take some grunt work, but getting a large group of people to build themed ‘training’ places would be highly beneficial, and I know they’ve existed before.

    Such as, if someone really likes zombies – Then create a zombie island that they can learn building, walking/running, communication, groups and all that noise.
    If they like werewolves, then make a foresty area with the same purpose, and you can do this for pretty much any subject someone might really like – It just takes some creative juices and some moderate building work, but it would provide a means of learning through something they already enjoy.

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  5. Caledon Oxbridge is absolutely the best Gateway to meet someone at – if you can get them there, it’s a wonderful walk-through, and almost the first thing they stumble across is a classroom, and often several people chatting at the seating area out front who help brand new people get themselves sorted out. When I take classes there (I still do, after all this time) I take time to talk to new people – it’s a very safe, welcoming place. And it has all the features you ask for – tutorials in a clear, easy to understand walk-through, classes with live instructors right there, and even a sandbox once the new person is taught how to teleport to it.

    I know very little of what the creators of the Caledon Oxbridge Gateway felt when LL removed them from the official signup process, but I imagine they have little taste or enthusiasm for this new project. Fortunately, they’ve continued to update the displays, and the classes are taught with various viewers and versions in mind (and that just got harder since instructors will no longer be able to tell at a glance which Viewers are in use). They are simply awesome, generous people who do their best to transmit their passion for creative work and living to new users. They are already in a position to welcome people well and safely, if there should happen to be a “Victorian/Steampunk” portal to walk through.

    When I got a published author’s avatar set up for an inworld appearance a few years ago, I went through the set up for him, and deliberately chose Caledon Oxbridge as his Gateway (as it was possible then). I got the avatar customized, then arranged to “meet” him there to walk him through (and sometimes into, heh) the displays so he could learn how to walk, sit, and get voice working. I felt, and still feel, that getting a brand-new user into an immersive experience is of the first importance (a vampire author might enjoy a more Gothic environment, a visual artist needs to be welcomed by artists, IN art, musicians need to get to a music venue, etc).

    I didn’t experience the other Gateways, but I’m aware of other groups that had created Welcome Newcomer areas for special events (the folks handling the Netroots in Second Life virtual convention, for example) and they do a stellar job – with volunteers.

    I took a newer alt through the previous sign in process – it wasn’t bad, but I missed having a gateway to choose from. And she still gets verbal abuse from strangers because her surname is Resident (but that’s another kettle of fissues).

    This new-new process is, as said above, a baby step in the right direction. But LL would do better to ensure that new users aren’t simply being dumped someplace where they can be preyed upon, or abandoned to wander in confusion before logging off for the first and last time.

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  6. When we filmed our Designing Worlds show at Imperial College and we looked at the way they were running inductions, we were told that they had a special 20 minute induction for nurses. That was all that was needed to give them the basics to go through the training. But it’s hands on.

    The point is that it does need to be a social experience. People who stay are generally, I suspect, those who have friends here, or who meet friendly people soon after arriving. And things need to be set up so that there are friendly people around – as there are in Caledon Oxbridge. By the way, they are offering advertising in return for sponsoring classes there – the details are in Prim Perfect’s News from the Grid in this issue.

    I’d also like to plug Virtual Ability’s tutorials. They’re designed to be very accessible for people who may have difficulties. But they work really well for everyone, I think.

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    1. I don’t need any persuading on the personal aspect. I’ve seen it time and again myself and have helped a lot of people get started. Going through the current process merely reinforced it as I mentioned in my fist piece on Destination Islands; I ended up deposited in Kensington W8 London, where I spent time talking newcomers who followed me through get to understand what had happened and find various bits in the Viewer.

      Whether the new DIs will end up with more directed use of personal help remains to be seen. At the moment they leave too much up to chance.

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      1. It’s a shame that you were dropped in Kensington W8 London, rather than London England UK (The Hyde Park sim) which is set up with a newbie welcoming area – it’s the old Community Gateway sim. They’re both part of the same four sim estate.

        And I think this is because of a confusion regarding the Destination Guide. At the moment, it packs in absolutely everything – from roleplaying to entertainment to education to … well, whatever. But many are targeted at existing users. The Prim Perfect Headquarters are on the list, for example, and I love to have visitors there – but we’re certainly not set up for newbie induction. I think there needs to be a category box one ticks – not newbie friendly (everyone would say they were) but something like newbie information provided. And then newcomers could be directed to THOSE sims, whereas the rest of us could use the Destination Guide as … a destination guide.

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        1. It’s where the current iteration of the DI’s is too scatter-gun. No apparently linkage to remaining privately-run CGs, nothing to help users find anything to do with the creative capabilities (such as the Ivory Tower, etc). OK.. so it appears it is going to be enhanced, but in the meantime…? It’s where the “publish, test, polish” philosophy tends to come a little unglued.

          I can understand the more general approach in a way – if people are directed too much, there will be the inevitable cries of “FIC!” and grumbling that way. Also why I can understand LL are going for the non-personal approach, as that has similarly received a huge amount of negative feedback over the last 12 months. Ergo, I suspect they are trying to tread some ill-defined middle ground (and by ill-defined, I mean the users as much as anyone else – as we all seem to have conflicting views).

          I’m guessing the DI portals are linked to the Destination Guide, tbh – but given the portal categories, it seems likely. But do agree with you overall on the DG. Hence why I personally feel it would be better for the Viewer to initially open HOW TO the first time it is used. Not only does it explain the basics of movement, chat, etc., very simply and quickly, it also points to the DG when people want to start finding things.

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  7. Just do some simple A-B split testing.

    Siphon off X% of new logins to A, and Y% to B, and so on to cover your bases, then look at the metrics for retention, shopping, conversion to premium, and so on.

    – Routinely darn in marketing and other use-case testing environments.

    Could be done with any of this, and with the new Destination islands paired off against the old ones.

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  8. its where the portals lead too is the main thing. the previous welcome islands had LM givers at the end of the corridor that did the same thing

    if linden can make a real effort this time to only ever include portal destinations that exemplify the best of SL then that would be really good

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    1. What it shows is that the destination guide needs to be refined.
      If you use the guide as an experienced user, you get the same hit or miss results – be we know enough of what’s going on to just hit the next result in that guide.

      I get the goal. If you ever sat in the old version, the last room was full of folks wondering what to click next. Portals are intuitive to any modern user of one of the many other online video games. So a lot fewer folks should get stuck there now.

      But they need to go somewhere useful.

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