MetaHarpers: the art of new user orientation

Arrehn Oberlander recently contacted me concerning MetaHarpers and the -io- Team’s new Linden Endowment of the Arts installation, The Inspiring Orientation – a smaller version of which was recently displayed at SL9B.

The installation, which opened on June 22nd, is described as: “Part art walk, part tutorial – a vision of a future where new SL citizens are introduced to an interactive combination of gallery and orientation course.”

The inspiring orientation – from the outside

Teleporting to the venue brings you (a little wet-footed, but that seems par for the course at LEA venues!) to a greeting area, where you are welcomed in a wide range of languages and get to meet your guides for the tour –  tablet-like creations that display information and instructions on their screens.

A guide

Following the path takes you through various rooms, each with a specific focus on using your viewer and interacting with the world around you, starting with the basics of movement. Each section is quite cleverly put together, and the section on sitting cleverly introduces the idea of sitting on objects directly (scripted or otherwise) and using poseballs. Elsewhere there are lessons on using chat, which uses a range of animals with which to interact on a basic level, and there is a section devoted to camera movement and control.

Talking to the animals: “If I were asked to sing in hippopotamus
I’d say “whynotamous?” and I would!!

At the end of the walk there is the opportunity to explore SL itself, with a series of teleport alcoves. These are divided into categories: Music and Stage, Art and Fashion, Exploration, Games, and Social and Chat. Each of these has two (or more) vendor boards visitors can scroll through to see a range of destinations. Clicking on an image brings up the Place Profile floater, allowing the visitor to read more on the destination and, if they like it, click on the Teleport button and go visit.

Each alcove also has a notecard giver that explains a little more about the subject matter, and can provide additional help. The Art and Fashion notecard, for example, defines the major forms of clothing (system, prim/sculpted and mesh) and the differences between them. While one might grumble the presentation of this information could be better, it is nevertheless more informative than anything currently on offer to new arrivals in SL.

Where next?

Most importantly, this area of the installation offers a way back for those that need a little more assistance – something massively lacking in recent orientation offerings from LL, where once you leave, the way back is barred to you in a “Thank you, and good night!” approach.

There isn’t much else beyond this in terms of orientation – but its is enough to give a flavour of what might be achieved.

Not only is the tour a visual experience, it is also very aural: the various sections are filled with a range of atmospheric sounds or music. The section on flight features elements of Glyph Graves’ The Forest of Water and Strangers also Dance, which uses sounds and tones very cleverly and is definitely worth wandering around rather than simply flying straight through. Elsewhere sounds of the jungle accompany the animals in the chat section and Lily of the Lamplight provides an accompaniment as you learn about camera controls.

Given that sound is enabled by default on the official viewer, then the use of music and sounds adds a clear dimension to an orientation experience and helps demonstrate the rich immersive experience one can enjoy with SL.

Glyph Graves’ combined piece deep inside The Inspiring Orientation

Clearly, as a demonstration, the installation only offers up just a sampling of lessons that could be provided in order to provide a feel for the idea. It would seem to naturally lend itself to further lessons being added without over-burdening the new user, so I’m not going to critique the creators on the basis that it doesn’t show X or Y in terms of basic lessons – something easily fixed were this to go into production.

However, I would be a little concerned should the idea be used with some of the graphics as seen in this installation. The animals in the chat area and the cartoon bedroom used to demonstrate sitting and touching objects in-world may look cute – but they also run the risk of giving entirely the wrong first impressions about SL to the newcomer, who ends up simply turning around and walking out in the belief they’ve wandered into something aimed towards younger children, rather than a sophisticated immersive world.

Perhaps a little too much like a cartoon?

While the lessons don’t have to be totally rooted in the “reality” of SL, I can’t help but feel that they should at least have a greater rooting in what SL as actually like in terms of what the new user can reasonably expect to see and encounter once they pass on in-world. Doing so should help build familiarity and confidence in the user, and enable them to better respond to the things they see with greater familiarity.

Another area that isn’t really covered in the exhibit, which is perhaps more important, is that of language. Beyond the many greetings in the welcome area, The Inspiring Orientation is presented entirely in English – and that’s fine for a piece designed to stimulate the mind and demonstrate what might be achieved. But how would it handle multiple languages, given that those coming into SL do so from all over the world?  Would multiple “tablet” screens be used? If so, the lesson areas might get a little crowed. Would screens operate in more than one language? That could easily lead to confusion were someone to start reading instructions in German, only to have someone else click the button for the French option to be displayed…

In fairness, the team behind the piece may have already considered this issue and have an answer – if so, it would have been nice to see something presented here, if only to further demonstrate the practicality of the the approach.

As a small aside, it would be nice to see an orientation system that actually points to the assistance that is available in the Viewer – particularly the How To guide, which even LL ignores (in favour of the Destination Guide). It’s a small niggle, but the built-in help is there, and there is no harm in pointing people towards it.

But leaving my niggles aside, The Inspiring Orientation does offer an interesting and entertaining attraction that takes a fair crack at answering a question that has stumped LL to the point where they have seemingly abandoned it entirely: just how do you get users engaged with the viewer and introduce them to Second Life in a visual and informative medium? This exhibit doesn’t have all the answers, but it does offer an immersive and engaging alternative to what has been offered-up recently elsewhere. As such, it is very much a worthwhile visit, whether you enjoy SL art or have an interest in issues of new user orientation.

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7 thoughts on “MetaHarpers: the art of new user orientation

  1. I’ll have to read this post again, but I’m stuck on this thought: “—Perhaps a little too much like a cartoon?” I’m glad that thought is going into the new user introduction however.

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    1. Bryn Oh’s work here is a delight as always, and makes the camming activity so immersive. And I love too Glyph’s Inspiration in the cavern you fly through – trees each representing a river, taking data from it and generating wonderful haunting sounds . Pity many will fly over it and not explore its delights. Oh, when will the lab get the message and commission imaginative artists to collaborate in orientation/induction experiences.

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      1. I agree on the risk of Glyph’s work being missed. Developing a workable approach to new user orientation isn’t easy, but the immersive elements here are definitely a step in the right direction, as is the sheer ease-of understanding, my noted reservations notwithstanding.

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  2. Heya, just a quick note on the language side, we’re currently exploring a couple different technology approaches to this.

    Both of them aim at redrawing the signage on the viewer side, based on the detected viewer language, so an english user and a spanish user can both be looking at the same sign, and each will see a version particular to their language. Similar things can be done for the speech, both on the detection side and on what language is spoken. Thanks for the feedback and writeup, it’s very helpful as we continue to evolve the area!

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    1. Now that is a clever idea!

      Thanks for letting me know about the installation – Oz was there during my second visit as well ;-).

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  3. Just wanted to add a comment to that of my partner, BB Seesaw. Glyph’s inspiration is beautiful, could stand and immerse myself in the music for hours, but it is a pity that the tablet giving instructions for how to fly has been placed by the entrance to the chamber. We saw at least one newcomer while we wandering around and I’m sure they will do as we did first time, fly from the entrance to the exit and miss experiencing Glyph’s Inspiration.

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