Sliding, but not yet dead

A little while ago, Nalates Urriah pulled together a set of statistics from diverse sources (all of which are duly credited) which help to paint a decent picture of where SL stands away from all the hype over falling region numbers, etc.

When taken together, the stats – which cover daily sign-ups, concurrency (daily / monthly), region numbers and even forum usage, all for periods of at least a year – present an interesting picture of Second Life which Nalates interprets in her own inimitable way. While they show that Second Life has in many respects been on a steady downward slide (particularly in terms of overall usage), the situation is far from unrecoverable. Indeed, some of the figures are, at least for a moment, trending upwards again – although without more detailed data and a wider breakdown, it is impossible to draw any conclusions as to what this might signify in the short-term and thus how it might be projected in the medium-, or long-term.

There are significant gaps in the data (through no fault of those who gathered / present it – the information simply isn’t available). For example, while sign-ups can be shown to have been at least constant (or have increased slightly) through the 2-year period, there is no practical context to the figures in terms of users actually being retained. A further problem with the figures is that there is no indicator as to the percent / proportion of these sign-ups actually being alternate accounts, rather than actual new users (although LL does apparently have a mechanism in place for distinguishing between the two).

Daily sign-ups, as reported by Tateru Nino and extrapolated and presented by Nalates Urriah, with monthly concurrency for 2012 insetΒ  – click

Certainly, Rod Humble did state atΒ in his first (and last) SLCC address in August 2011 the rise of user sign-ups did coincide with an upswing in identifiable uniques (i.e. genuine new users, rather than alternate accounts), which he clearly defined as people signing-up, downloading the viewer and logging in to SL.

The user concurrency chart is somewhat more meaningful, in that it charts concurrency for a more extended period from December 2009 through to the present day. As such, any trend shown is liable to be somewhat more reliable, although there are still problems in interpreting the data as a whole. For example, it does show a consistent downward trend in concurrency since the late “boom” period when SL was at the height of its own Hype Cycle “peak of over-inflated expectations”; but precisely what this means is still somewhat open to interpretation.

Daily concurrency, Dec 09 through Jan 2013, from Tateru Nino, as extrapolated by Nalates Urriah

Less Doesn’t Automatically Mean Fewer

A decline in concurrency doesn’t automatically mean a substantial drop in overall user numbers (although it is hard to completely divorce the two). There have been a number of factors which have contributed to some aspects of the decline outside of falling user numbers. Linden Lab caused something of a decline when they clamped-down on the use of bots. More recently, factors such as changing demographics and changing user habits appear to have also contributed to falls in concurrency.

These latter points were indicated again indicated by Rod Humble in his SLCC 2011 address, when he drew attention to the fact that the overall demographic of SL users was shifting, age-wise, more toward people in the mid-to-late 20s, and that they were collectively logging-on to SL for shorter periods. He also indicated that LL had charted a noticeable increase in the way SL users were interacting without actually going in-world – through the mechanism of profile feeds, for example.

From my own experience, I’ve found my pattern of SL usage did alter somewhat through 2012. Whereas my in-world time was largely marked by extended periods log-in to SL, I’ve trended towards shorter, sharper periods in-world. I still log-in daily (as a rule), but a lot of these instances can be for periods of 45-60 minutes rather than an evening. I’m also logging-in at more diverse periods than I was previously. Part of this has been due to RL circumstances; part of it was – for a few months at least – due to my engaging with other SL users more through the medium of Twitter.

While more latterly, my habits have swung back more towards slightly longer periods in-world (and conversely, my time on Twitter has shrunk enormously), my habits are still somewhat changed, as I’m far more focused on “burst” activities – logging-in, visiting regions I’m lining-up to blog about or attending meetings and events, and then logging out. Nor am I alone in this. I’ve witnessed many friends change their log-in habits over the last 12-18 months, with some cutting back from spending time in-world daily, to logging-in 3 or 4 times a week (and for shorter periods).

If such habitual changes are widespread, they could be contributing to the drops in concurrency. Nevertheless, it could be a mistake to completely dismiss the decline as not being indicative that there is a small but steady outflow of users from SL which is not being matched by the influx of new users.

The Failing ofΒ  Engagement

That people’s habits may be changing is perhaps also indicative of a wider malaise – that the platform is no longer able to captivate and hold people’s attention like it once did. This is in part to be expected among those who have been around the platform for a while. However, if it is also true of those relatively new to SL, then that is worrying when it comes to matters of long-term user retention.

And therein lies the rub. Just as there are many ways of interpreting the data we get to see relating to Second Life, so to are there many different symptoms affecting the platform which may appear to be limiting its ability to once again grow. What’s more, symptoms are often easier to deal with than underlying causes, and while they clearly need to be addressed, the risk is that they themselves become the be-all and end all of efforts.

That LL are dealing with many of the symptoms is clear. They are tackling lag and so on, and are trying to introduce more capabilities to make the platform more usable and more amenable to a wide variety of uses. They are committed to making it a lot more stable and a lot more visually appealing. In short, they are addressing the very issues many have banged on about as both spoiling their SL experience and limiting the platform’s appeal. Frankly, they deserve more recognition in doing this, and it does irk me that some commentators still persist in complaining about lag, stability and so on, while simultaneously being almost completely dismissive of the work LL are carrying out in these areas.

Materials processing: may radically improve the look and feel of SL over time - but will it lead to a greater upswing in the platform's popularity?
Materials processing: may radically improve the look and feel of SL over time – but will it lead to a greater upswing in the platform’s popularity?

However, while this work is very welcome and should serve to offer users even more opportunities for the creative use of SL and to radically alter its in-world appearance, the fact is that technical updates and improved capabilities alone aren’t going to lead to an upsurge in take-up of the platform among new users arriving at SL’s doors, howsoever they arrive.

And this is where my concern lies. The bottom line is that the underlying cause of in SL’s slow decline isn’t actually lack of capabilities; it’s that a good proportion of those coming into the platform don’t appear to be engaging with the platform sufficiently well enough for them to stay (or as Rod Humble puts it, “stick”).

This isn’t actually a new problem; it has been the bane of Second Life for years now and a myriad of possible solutions have been tried over the past five years, none of which have succeeded. So much so that it now appears as if LL has withdrawn entirely from the issue, and simply left matters down to near-blind chance with the current process of having a user log-in and then teleport to a random destination based on a bland category (“music”, “games”, etc.) in the hope that someone at the receiving end of the teleport will be there to provide help.

Destination Islands: the "fire and forget" approach to new users
Destination Islands: the “fire and forget” approach to new users

What strikes me as odd in this is that Rod Humble actually squarely put his finger on the major issue of user engagement – putting users coming into SL directly in contact with the activities and people they find most appealing. Yet eight months on, nothing really has been visibly done to address this issue. There has been no engagement with those communities with SL who could – most likely would (particularly among the remaining mentor groups) – work with LL to enhance the new user throughput. There has been no effort to seriously sit down and look at how the current “log them in and teleport them elsewhere” process could be constructively re-worked to ensure that those coming into SL can better identify the opportunities which align with their interests and have a better chance of meeting people ready to engage with them and help them settle-in to their Second Life.

Perhaps there is yet some hidden plan to address these latter points; I simply don’t know. However, Nalates concludes her piece with the stated hope that in 2013, SL will see something of a reversal in current downward trends and once again enjoy some growth. My worry is that Linden Lab also shares the same hope, but actually has little idea on how to actually convert that hope into a meaningful drive to build SL’s user base once more.

Right now, SL is somewhat ill – that cannot be denied. But it does have some way to go before it enters the ICU, despite the fact some do tend to see it as already being on life support. However, the slippage cannot be ignored. As welcome as dealing with the various symptoms which have long afflicted the platform is (and I do stress that I applaud LL’s efforts in attempting to bring better stability, services and capabilities to SL), the fact remains that until practical steps are taken to try to address matters such as user retention, it is hard to see how the platform can be revived sufficiently for it to once again enjoy widespread appeal – or reverse the more widespread media perception that Second Life is “dead”.

Note: I’ve deliberately avoided mention of region numbers / tier in this piece; I’ve covered a good portion of this already, and don’t want to rake over the coals yet again. Suffice it to say that while tier is a longer-term concern, it isn’t something which can immediately be dealt with. Nor are tier cuts themselves, even if they could be supported, necessarily the “magic bullet” to cure SL’s ills.

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28 thoughts on “Sliding, but not yet dead

  1. I think one of the fundamental problems with SL, and the one that contributed most to it failing to live up to its initial hype in the eyes of the mainstream media, is that regions are not scalable. And by that I mean that a region is hosted on one core of one processor on a server, and can’t be scaled to use multiple cores or even multiple processors in order to support more attendees. And that’s why we *still* can’t see more than 60-odd people or so at a venue without the region crashing or getting unworkably lagged. I’ve blogged about this myself in the past (I won’t presume to post a link) but I think that this is fundamental. SL was initially touted as an educational and multimedia environment, and it could yet still be. But only if this elephant in the room can be tackled. I’ve been on SL for over 5 years now and we seem to be no closer to it.

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    1. In a sense, it almost seems as it’s a little worse than before πŸ™‚

      Of course, this is the perspective of someone with an utterly underpowered, ancient computer, and β€” most important β€” with a partially melted-down graphics card. What I’ve noticed these days is that I get reasonable FPS at the settings I’m comfortable with β€” 17 FPS or so on most places. Add a handful of avatars, and this drops perhaps to 13-14 but not much more β€” still moderately acceptable, and often imperceptible in the difference. In fact, the difference of having “a few” avatars around or none makes little difference. This is rather quite different from what happened, say, 3 or 5 years ago.

      On the other hand, put more than a dozen avatars in the same spot, and FPS, for me, drops to 3 FPS β€” what I got in 2005 with *40* avatars around. And it’s been a long, long time since I’ve gone to a venue with so many people (I know they exist, I just have managed to avoid them!).

      This is on my “main” computer. I *also* have an ancient laptop with a dreaded Intel GMA850 card, which for some time was not even considered a “supported” card. This used to barely manage 6 or so FPS at the lowest settings. But nowadays, I can easily get 12, sometimes 15 FPS on most places β€” an astonishing increase (quasi-empty OpenSim grids often get 25-30 FPS!). Add a handful avatars, and it drops to 3 FPS. It doesn’t go much below that, unless the area is full of partially-transparent alpha textures and so forth.

      So what is so strange about this? The two cards are completely different in terms of performance. The GMA850 is a “toy” card, not appropriate for 3D environments, even though it barely manages to work rather decently. Avatars, of course, are the major source of client-side lag β€” too many polygons to render on those intricate meshes. But what I find so strange is that beyond a certain threshold, it doesn’t seem to matter how powerful the card is. You’ll just get 3 FPS no matter what.

      While 3, 4, 5 years ago, the behaviour was totally different: the GMA850 would perform much worse on empty sims, and be unable to handle any amount of avatars; while the other computer would, on average, get good results. I remember quite clearly being in areas with 60+ avatars and still enjoy 4-5 FPS on a good day (say, in the GMT mornings). Somehow this seems not to be possible any more.

      And yes, I’m aware this is a very complex question to answer. LL cannot simply wave a magic wand and expect their rendered to work equally well on all kinds of hardware, and be able to deal with 100 avatars as easily as with just one. This can be the case for top-level graphics cards that can render billions of polygons per frame, but it’ll be impossible to achieve good performance with the kind of old and outdated cards I have, which can only render, at best, millions of polygons per frame and not billions…

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      1. i agree FPS is much lower than before, but for me it doesn’t really seem to correlate with lag anymore, or if it does it’s a much weaker correlation. sometime after the move from v1 my FPS nosedived from 40 -70 depending on whether i was in a prim and avatar crowded area or my bare platform in the sky to a shocking mid teens to maybe 20 on a good day. and yet, not only did i not feel lagged, things seemed and still seem to render faster, and with much crisper detail.
        next time i am totally lagged and rubber banding my way through a mass of grey people i will make a point of checking my FPS, but it’s already so low, i find it hard to understand how such a a small range could account for so much disparity of experience.

        d’ya think FPS switched to Celsius and they didn’t tell us??

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      2. THE GMA card “improvement” may be down to the ongoing work on the GPU tables and updates to the rendering system as a whole, some of which is geared towards improving the experience for older systems. My own experience on my Ge9800 GT (which is starting to creak rather badly), is that over the past 14-15 months, I’ve actually seen a gradual improvement in FPS rates overall when running in deferred mode such that I can generally manage reasonably decent rates in all but the most crowded of regions. It’s only when I turn on the associated bells and whistles full time (shadows, ambient occlusion, etc.,) that I find myself in severe FPS doldrums (i.e. single figures) as a rule. Maybe I’m just lucky :).

        Avatars are an incredible hit as all calculations relating to them is currently handled by the viewer. Given that avatars have become increasingly complex (multiple clothing items per layer, swing towards higher-resolution “photo-realistic” skins & clothing, etc.). Then there’s everything else that goes on with avatars (multiple attachments which have to be downloaded, rendered & any associated scripts loaded server-side and scheduled (adding to the overall feeling of lag, if not to a local FPS drop), etc.) – so in some respects I’m entirely unsurprised that avatars are still an issue when it comes to performance.

        It is also something LL are aware of, as per part 1 of my week 10 update, in which Simon Linden reports on early attempts looking at easing some of the load placed on the viewer where avatars are concerned; although the work is still in its earliest stages and it is unclear where it might lead in time.

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        1. All very true. However, my original point is that the server-side region simulation isn’t distributed and doesn’t scale. Until that’s addressed we’re still going to have the concept of a “crowded” sim being around 60 avatars and that is not a figure that will give mainstream engagement. Mainstream performers have dabbled in SL (most notably Suzanne Vega back in the early days) but playing to so few people at once just isn’t attractive enough for them to bother further, and I think that is one of the reasons SL never lived up to expectations for many people. If LL could address that issue, perhaps SL would get a second wind.

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          1. Yes, the topic has wandered a little since your original comment, and my reply was more aimed at responding to Gwyn’s specific experiences vis-a-vis her older GPU :).

            While I agree that there are issues with crowded regions and performance, I’m not so sure they are completely insurmountable or wholly reliant on the need to scale region size; I’m actually not entirely convinced that not having larger regions has in any way impeded Second life’s growth to date.

            If nothing else (and numbers aside), *if* Simon’s work goes anywhere, it could make things significantly easier for those attending large events. Granted this still leaves some issues for the performers – although these shouldn’t actually be that great, as performers don’t tend to be moving around a lot (although some may cam around), and their stream shouldn’t be affected by any in-world lag, etc., as it goes via a different service.

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        2. Oh, I don’t think regions need to be bigger. I was meaning that they need to be able to support more avatars, primarily for events.
          If the sim-crossing improvements really work, then perhaps one workaround might be to actually *reduce* the size of a sim so that you can get a greater avatar density. But the ideal solution would be a distributed system with load balancing.
          I’m sure that the reason they haven’t done it yet is because the code is a nightmare (I’m assuming) and it was never written to be scalable.

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  2. I’m glad you mentioned the issue of user engagement. If my memory serves me well, much was made of the social aspect of SL in the days when the hype around it was peaking. At that time, one of the many things SL was seen as was a platform that would combine virtual reality and an enhanced form of the sort of social networking that characterised the likes of Yahoo! and other such services (Hi5 anyone?). This, of course, never really happened. We all know that Facebook came and took the social networking scene by storm, eclipsing everything else.

    And now SL has its “feeds” section, which has many weaknesses (not least the “sample posts” on the log-in page; these are far more likely to put someone off than get them to log in and I think that their inclusion was an ill-advised move). The main issue with the feeds, however, is that they don’t really do anything to bolster SL’s virtual economy. As is mentioned in the article, the feeds allow user “engagement” without actually getting inworld. Yes, they allow users to connect with each other. But much of the activity on the feeds comes from users who don’t log into SL itself, do not own land (which is the bread and butter of LL’s virtual economy), do not purchase virtual goods, do not create virtual goods for others to purchase: they generate no income whatsoever for LL and they don’t participate in the turnover of the virtual economy.

    And it’s a good thing that you mentioned the issue of new users “sticking” and LL’s almost complete inactivity regarding this matter. Last time I visited one of the “newbie” areas, what I saw there would very easily drive new users away from SL. Several idiots who were harassing newbies with racist speech and foul language, telling them to disappear from SL. And that was on the Help Island, mind you.

    This is appalling. LL needs to keep the newbies, to encourage them to wander, explore, create, consume. They know it. Yet, we don’t see anything; not only w.r.t. suggesting places for them to visit, but also w.r.t. to making sure that they feel welcome in SL. When I first signed up in SL with my first account in 2006, I had the good fortune – and I’m sure others did too – of being greeted by helpful people who showed me the ropes, made things a bit easier for me, helped me around, introduced me to friendly people and, pretty soon, I had a number of people that I could talk to, explore various places in SL with and even learn a few things from them.

    Now, what do newbies encounter? I already described what I saw: hostility and harassment. Back in 2006, the idiots who were harassing the newbies would have been kicked out and their usernames and violations of the ToS would have been put on SL’s version of Gameforge’s “pillory”, a feature that was sadly discontinued in SL. Now, they’re allowed to run rampant and also create armies of alts so that they can keep on ruining SL for others.

    Exactly how is this contributing to SL’s economy? How is this helping user retention? How is this helping SL grow?

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  3. I don’t know what’s the real impact of mesh introduction, but it could be that it also contributed to reducing the time people spend in-world. See, for builders, for instance, a significant amount of their time has to be dedicated to… building. But traditionally, building was an in-world activity, in which people would take time creating prims, gathering them, linking them, etc. Now, everything is made on Maya or Blender, which requires that people spend time out of SL, instead of in SL.

    I know not everyone is a builder (and as mesh becomes more and more widespread, less and less people become builders, for manipulating mesh can be much harder than manipulating prims) and I cannot estimate the impact of mesh introduction on the whole SL population. Nonetheless, maybe the ways of using SL are changing along with SL’s tech aspects (the introduction of sculpties, mesh, etc.). I wonder what would a lag reduction cause: probably people would have a much better experience in-world and it can be pleasant and engaging, but also some people would have their time in SL reduced, for they would log-in, do what they have to do in a shorter time (for there is less lag) and log off. I’m not saying lag shouldn’t be reduced – just that maybe it’s not that people are less engaged, at least in some cases, but that their engagement requires less time in-world (and maybe more time outside SL, in the case of mesh builders).

    Was I clear? Sorry for my bad English, I know it can be confusing sometimes.

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    1. Actually, Ricco, you make a fair point; mesh does require a lot of work to be undertaken outside of SL, which can be a contributing factor to concurrency rates.

      As to lag, it is an issue that should be dealt with as far as possible (and remembering that at least some of it (if not a good proportion of it) comes down to the viewer end of the equation as much as anything server-side). That’s why I think LL deserve recognition for putting in the effort; whether it “should have been done years ago” (as some commentators keep stating) is irrelevant – that the effort is going into lag issues server-side is good news. But the problem is that while it will help to make the in-world experience more pleasant, it’s not going to do very much overall to help grow SL if people are coming in, can’t find what they seek or contact people ready, willing and able to help them, and then simply log-off disappointed.

      Again, if people coming into SL aren’t engaged with the platform, they aren’t ever likely to get as far as experimenting with building with prims, let alone working with mesh. Nor are they likely to ever get as far as taking part in the economy or renting land, etc.

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    2. That’s an excellent point. These days, if I were a content creator (which I’m not), I’d do all the testing on OpenSim anyway β€” why bother uploading “test” content to SL, which is expensive to do?

      I remember, not many years ago, how painful the whole process was β€” content creators would spend hours uploading textures and other things, over and over again, spending thousands of L$, and sitting on the same place for hours, until everything worked fine. This was not only time-consuming but expensive (but good for the economy!).

      I can only speak for a very small group of people who develop first on OpenSim β€” where you can do all the tests you wish for free β€” and only when the content is “perfect” upload it to SL. So people like that will still be “on virtual worlds” as many hours as before, building and creating content β€” but they will not be “on Second Life”. Maybe just this makes a lot of difference.

      Very well spotted!

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  4. i really think lag is an almost non-issue. it is greatly improved and anyway, it certainly didn’t keep us out in the wonder years, just something to share a moan about. but the 60 max avatars remains a real drag on SL being able to do anything that feels really big time.

    my personal choice of moment that it all headed in the WRONG direction, and really i mean ALL of it was the decision to cancel half price tier for educational institutions. there went the traditional source of new blood and new ideas in most cultures, and there went the incentive and many of the opportunities to run schools and places where new users could learn a couple skills and get acclimated to the new world.

    i agree that the help islands are really embarrassing. and i don’t know why the mentor program got cancelled. i had my name on a waiting list to be a mentor for a long time 😦 so there is no lack of energy or ‘talent’ waiting to show new people the ropes. But the truth is SL is quite hard to learn even with help. there seems to be a kind of person who gets fascinated with it or some of its aspects and stays and many who just don’t take to the place.

    still i think reports of SL’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. the platform is about to hit its double digit years so maybe we’re just in an awkward phase, not such a baby faced kid anymore, but not a mature entity yet either, still all clumsy limbs and awkward postures, still not sure what we want to be when we grow up. we’ll see.

    i definitely think it might be time to shoulder some responsibility for ourselves and stop blaming mom and dad for everything.

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    1. I have mixed feelings on “lag”, and it is so often used as a generic term to cover a multitude of sins – such as the simulator choking when complex items are being rezzed (being addressed by Baker Linden’s code rolling to BlueSteel and LeTigre) or the dip in performance experienced by regions as an avatar crosses from one to another (being addressed through the multi-threaded region crossing work), or the dip in performance (sometime repeated dip on busy regions) which can still occur when avatars teleport in / out (being looked at from a number of angles), for example. On the other hand, there are very definite aspects to it still to be addressed, such as Simon Linden’s initial investigations into the whole question of avatar rendering.

      So there are things that can still be done from LL’s perspective. However, there is much at the other end of the equation (i.e. the computer on which the viewer is running) which can degrade the user experience and which gets blamed under the general heading of “lag” which I agree, from LL’s perspective is a non-issue, as there is nothing they can really do about it.

      I’m not sure about the educational tier offer having stalled SL’s growth. On the one hand it did have an impact, true. But on the other, even with full regions offered at half-tier, Second Life would have a tough time competing with OpenSim both in terms of price and capabilities, particularly given the overall flexibility of Opensim (an educational institution can opt to host with a provider focused on education or could opt to “host their own”, for example). So, even if LL hadn’t cancelled the offer, there is an equal possibility that they wouldn’t now be in a similar downward slide in educational hosting. Which, I’ll hasten to add, doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t think they curtailed educational support prematurely.

      As to the demise, I agree; it’s over-exaggerated. I also agree that the user community needs to take a long hard look at itself, and in some respects needs to start acting a little more responsibility for its own responses to LL at times. But in the case of bringing new blood into SL, we are somewhat stymied in what we can do, and the initial push to open the doors the wider collaboration and support in this does need to come from LL. My worry is that they are so burdened with a dim historical view, they either don’t know how to try and / or are unwilling to invest the effort. And I’d really like them to prove me wrong on that.

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      1. I agree. For a pure classroom or lecture scenario, why would you *not* want to be on OpenSim on your own (free) server rather than Second Life? The education argument is moot there.

        However, I still maintain that the inability to scale a region for a media event such as a live gig is a massive impediment to SL’s continued growth.

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        1. LL have looked at “megaregions” on-and-off. It’s a same SL doesn’t easily scale, although as events like SLB and, more recently, OBR, demonstrate, it is possible to support large numbers of people across four adjoining sims and (with a little help form the Lab) ensure none of the regions poof. Not ideal in all cases, but it works.

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      2. well i didn’t just mean educational institutions that are primarily external brick and mortar affairs, i meant little in world colleges and classrooms dedicated to teaching SL skills, and helping to make up for the gaping lacuna in help for newbies. when i was new i went to an average of 3 building classes per day, but the school i went to closed when the tier for educational sims went up. to me it would be silly to send a person new to SL to OS grid to learn how to put a script in a door.

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        1. Ah. I was going on the fact you referred to the edutcational discount which, so far as I’m aware, only went to recognised educational establishments (schools, colleges, universities, distance learning centres, etc.), rather than in-world groups and SL-focused learning activities. Was the school you went to perhaps associated with one of the more formal educational centres? I know a number did actually have public sandboxes where lessons specifically aimed at SL users were held – I remember going to a demonstration / presentation at one back in around 2009/10.

          (As a total aside to this, LL might need to revisit their brochure on education in SL. Some of it might again be well out-of-date.)

          Many of the in-world mentor and help groups have continued under their own steam since LL ended the Mentor Programme (such as RHN, White Tiger Mentors & Mental Mentors), and various communities do also hold newcomer orientation programmes. The problem now is more a case of reconnecting new users with these groups and opportunities, rather than simply loading them into a gun (the “new” Destination Islands) and then firing them shotgun-like into SL.

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          1. hmmm i’m pretty sure that if your sim was educational in nature then you qualified… but i was new at the time. anyway school in question was TUI and i think that was solely SL. there still are some schools out there (i teach at Builders Brewery for instance) and have attended stuff at NCI, Happy Hippo and SOMA School of Design. but mostly I remember when you could search events under the education category and have lots and lots of choices, and many were specifically oriented to new residents and new builders. sadly that hasn’t been true for awhile.

            and lolz at firing newbs shot gun style into SL. it’s funny cuz it’s true. sad, but true.

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        2. I still have qualms about the shutting down of the Mentor/Greeter programme. I mean, I *know* why they did it. It was impossible to manage a group of 5000 people and guarantee they were all up to the same standards β€” specially because rarely more than 50 would come and attend the general meetings. Mentoring and Greeting was highly individualistic, with no standardization on procedure, and, of course, the newbie experience depended hugely on how lucky you were with the person you got.

          It was a management nightmare. And, of course, newbies complained to LL about their lack of qualified help when starting. Even if LL claimed that these were just volunteers, and they had no “control” over them, newbies wouldn’t care: Mentors and Greeters were the “image” of LL in-world.

          Not to mention the problematic issue of having Mentors grabbing newbies and sending them to their own shops as quickly as possible. This was on the days that new users got a few L$ to spend, not knowing yet how to search for quality items. So they would buy anything they saw β€” a situation mirroring pretty much what happens with “tourist traps” all over the world.

          Still, the Mentor/Greeter programme had *some* advantages. At least you got a human to teach you something, even if the quality of teaching varied a lot. This also encouraged the group to launch so many of those educational classes β€” if they could not afford tier for holding them, there were many LL-sponsored spots to hold these classes, so all that was needed was for Mentors/Greeters to volunteer their time for educational classes. And LL would actively promote them. These days, beyond the time, you need to spend money on tier AND advertising to let newbies know where you’re holding your classes; clearly this is quite hard to do…

          Sure, many communities are still able to do that. But you have to find the community first. And that’s the problem.

          I know that this is a highly toxic subject, but I’m personally for having SL immediately locating our RL friends based on our contacts. I’ve suggested this before. Let new users log in and tie their accounts to Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, MS Live, Google, Plurk, etc. Based on that, they could immediately add their friends who were already in SL. By looking at their groups, pick lists, etc., newbies would at least know where to find people they already know.

          To make sure nobody’s privacy is compromised, this would be a opt-in system. If you want to remain unsearchable, you simply refuse to link your contacts to your SL account. Simple. Anyone wishing to encourage friends to find them would naturally link to their account; anyone wishing to remain anonymous/pseudonymous would also be able to do the same. It would even be possible to locate people based on their country, city, or similar interests (like my.secondlife.com does… but that only happens after you register and are made ware of my.secondlife.com’s existence!). This is how all social environments work to quickly put friends in touch with each other.

          In my 8+ years in SL, I have just found a handful of RL friends now and then β€” by pure chance, since all my data is pseudonymous! β€” but I do have a RL avatar for some of my professional/academic work, and I always wonder how many of my RL friends/contacts/connections/family are in SL and have been in SL all the time, but I have no clue what their avatar names are!

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  5. Well, thanks for the wonderful article, Inara πŸ™‚ You have been most objective in your description. It’s quite interesting to see at the “decline” of SL as merely a switch on perspective and a change of habits. This certainly answers one of the fundamental questions I always had: if SL is in such decline, how can we explain that the economy is growing (slowly, but steadily) all the time? This baffled me, until I read your article!

    In my early years in SL, I was a lucky person. Nobody knew me, and since I had few interests outside SL (and Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist!), I spent eons in-world. Having been a Premium user since my day #5, I’ve always enjoyed the weekly stipend. And that’s what I spent β€” not more, not less.

    Over the years, I started selling a few things now and then β€” low-quality, niche market things, with little appeal to anyone β€” and so I could spend a little more. To the best of my knowledge, I only retrieved US$ out of the LindeX a couple of times, just to experiment how it worked. I do, ocassionally, buy a few L$, when there is something out there newly released that I *have* to buy (heh!) but costs more than my available budget. Still, I never sold much. But I’m not selling less; so the amount of tier I pay β€” plus renting on private islands β€” is very little, but has remained constant over the years.

    What changed was my logging-in habits. I used to be in-world every day, 3-4 hours a day β€” sometimes more, during weekends. I led a simple life, which allowed me the privilege of being able to spend all that time in-world, even if I wasn’t doing anything special, just chatting around. Over the years, my personal life became hopelessly confusing, tangled, and incredibly demanding; I had even to cope with a fundamental change in my routine, from working 16 hours and sleeping 8, to a strange 12-hour day, of which a few hours are spent asleep. Worse than that, everything I do in SL β€” which results in articles, announcements, and so forth β€” is tracked by a few people who demand my entire time and availability πŸ™‚ So every time I publish an article or launch a plugin which interfaces with SL, someone sends me an email saying “you should be WORKING instead!” Heh. Thanks to all those people complaining about my lack of work, I reduced my in-world time to a bare minimum β€” a few hours per WEEK at most, with rare exceptions now and then!

    But I still pay my tier; I still rent from the same private islands; I still attend a few events regularly; I still make the same amount of sales; I still spend all my surplus buying nice things (and do that regularly!). That hasn’t changed in the least. So from the perspective of the *economy*, there is little difference. But there is a huge decrease in in-world hours due to changing habits, and this will reflect on LL’s statistics.

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that I’m seldom around people who are less than 3 years old in SL. I find this amusing. In 2007 or so, while the Mentor programme was still working, I was always surrounded by newbies. While I’m sure there are still plenty of them around β€” sometimes I pop over to Ahern for a few minutes β€” I see them less and less. What SL “feels” to me is that it’s a paradise of veteran old-timers who will never go away. This is neither good nor bad. First of all, it might just be my own perception of the world. But if it’s widespread, it only means that LL has very faithful users, who remain around for years and years and years, but is not able to attract new ones. That’s ok. There are plenty of ways to grow based on an established user-base. I’m no sales expert, but a former sales manager of a company I founded a decade ago gave me a lot of clever tips, one of which was: “it’s FAR easier to upsell services to existing, happy customers, than to try to get new ones”. The media are all about numbers of new users to explain “success”, but the real business comes from OLD users who remain faithful and are willing to pay for service. Have you noticed that MySpace didn’t disappear? Sure, they don’t have a billion users like Facebook. But the millions they have are enough to pay for it to continue to be online (and keep updating the way it works).

    I think that Second Life might just be the 3D MySpace (as opposed to the 3D Facebook): people who value what SL is good for will remain around, even if they change their habits, but they will continue to be faithful to the platform and sustain its operating costs. With an exception: anyone still relying on having lots of newbies to be around will be disappointed and give up…

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    1. Thank you :).

      If I’m honest, I think that there has / is a decline in abolsute numbers (hence the title!), but conversely, that it is nowhere near as drastic as some commentators like to paint. Certainly, as mentioned, we’re a long way from anything being irrevocably heading towards a state of terminal decline. What does trouble me, however, is the lack of fresh blood coming into SL and “sticking”, again as noted in the article.

      Thanks for the insight into your own experiences – which actually mirror a lot of mine in terms of SL – especially in terms of the age of people you find around you / bump into. I find much the same (and it is why the new blood issue bugs me – where are all the newbies? Even when I opt to drop into a popular region, the number of people who have been involved in SL for 3+ years tends to outweigh those under three years old. Or maybe that’s a factor of the places I drop-in on?

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  6. 1 – What happend to SL on Steam? It was one of the most promising bits of information this past year and it seems to have dried up on the vine. Anyone know?

    2 – IMVU and just about every other game have Gift Cards to be used as credits within the game/world. I live in a small town in Ontario Canada and I can buy an IMVU card at my local variety store. The IMVU card (with a pretty avatar) drew my attention right away (on the rack) and I think a lot of other people will see it too and wonder what it is. Why has Linden not created its own syndicated card and captured the attention of milliions of eyeballs with a dynamic/sexy image on the card.

    3 – Who is running Marketing now that Kim is gone?? Till she came along, Linden NEVER advertised outside of SL. I think she made some in-roads into developing countries – I would like to see more of that. http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2011/11/kim-salzer-leaves-linden-lab.html

    4 – Social Media (FB & Twitter) and Mobile (lack of screen size and processing power) is killing SL.

    4 – A Megasim/dedicated server scenerio is needed for large venues who need to support more than 40 or 50 people. But in the end, I dont think people computers/graphics could handle/render 100 or more dancing avis.

    5 – Sex, Sexual and Sexy still sells. It always has and it always will. SL offers a unique way to have sex or be sexy that few other worlds/games can offer. In fact, sex in a virtual world or with robots is not far off (echos of Bladerunner).

    Kisses – Aprille

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      1. The Steam link-up is (I believe) still “coming”. I’ll endeavour to poke someone at LL nest week for an update.
      2. Gift cards / trading cards have been suggested through various forum posts and blogs. I can’t really comment, as I don’t know LL’s inner thinking on marketing, although I can see a number of cons to the idea from their perspective which might serve to put them off pursuing it, were they even to consider it.
      3. Lee Senderov is now VP of Marketing, having joined LL in July 2012. I’ve lost track who was in the post following Kim Salzer’s departure. I’d also point out that LL did actually market external prior to Kim Salzer’s arrival. The “Become Your Avatar” campaign (which admittedly was not perhaps the best campaign ever run, but it does stick in the mind) originally ran in 2010 prior to Salzer’s arrival at LL in August of that year, and was re-run shortly after her departure.
      4. Mobile access to SL is a problem, but not sure it is “killing” the platform. I don’t think anyone has actually measured the deamand for more portable access to SL, and it doesn’t appear as if the largest cries from users are for such an option. Nevertheless, there are some alternatives for those who do wich to access SL “on the go”. Lumiya is perhaps the most obvious option; currently only available for the Android platform, there are moves underway to port it to iOS (although this will take time), and its capabilities are quite stunning, as I’ve covered in this blog. Vick Forcella has a report on running the SL viewer on a Windows 8 tablet – the results aren’t ideal, but it is offers an alternative. Radegast also offers a potential option for Windows & Linux tablets. Of course, far more could be done, particularly with device-specific clients in the same vein as Lumiya, which move beyond basic text / chat intereactions is seen with the other mobile options which are available, and it will be interesting to see if LL do move more in this direction as they see demand growing.
      5. Large regions have been the subject of discussion at the Lab. However, implementing them is seen as a signnificant and complex technical project which impacts almost every aspect of SL. As such, were it to come about, it would be unlikely to do so in the near future – and currently, it doesn’t appear to be going further than conceptual thinking.

      As to your last comment, all I can say is, “Hence Adult regions and rating”! πŸ™‚

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  7. Second Life lacks what most games/programs have – new Versions/Editions/Launches/Variations – ie “SL X.0” as a program like Sims has/had. This is a critical factor in being seen as progressing and (hopefully) getting a better – more advanced version – people MUST check out/upgrade/buy and the Game Industry/Shows must review. Without this, they have to find other ways to make things fresh and new. Has Linden made SL fresh and new to past users and outsiders?

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