In June Rod Humble indicated that the Lab would be evaluating a “new” new user experience in an A/B test against the current Destination Islands. During a conversation I was able to have with him a little more recently*, I asked whether the new experience would include anything of the “personal touch” – getting new users more easily get to the things which interest them. He replied:
We definitely want to make it easy for Second Life users (especially new ones) to connect with the things in-world that match their interests. What we’re testing at the moment is more geared at getting new users familiar with basic controls, so it comes even before the point where they’re ready to connect with relevant content.
Given this, I’ve been curious as to what form the “new” new user experience might take – and today I had my answer.
The sign-up process itself remains unchanged, so far as I can tell. as does the first-time installation of the viewer, which I looked at back in March 2012 – although this does differ significantly to the installation process established users may be familiar with.
As I reported in 2012, when installing from the sign-up process, the viewer includes a series of panels which give various hints as to what SL is and how to get a start in it, such as the use of text and voice chat – although admittedly, the fact that these panels still feature viewer 2.x did raise a couple of eyebrows. Nothing like staying up-to-date, eh?
Once logged-in to Second Life, things are now noticeably different. New users are initially delivered to one of several versions of “Social Island”, arriving on a beach. The landscaping here is somewhat more pleasing to the eye than the older Destination Islands, However – and bearing in mind, I have no idea just how “preview” or “work-in-progress” this approach is – it tends to start to unravel from here. Just what do you do? Where do you go? What the heck is going on? There is currently no indication at all.
Well, actually, there are clues. They’re just not terribly obvious clues.
Up in the navigation bar, alongside the region name is the parcel description “Find the path”. The clue refers to one of two paths off of the beach. The first refers to on which leads up from the eastern end of the beach, under a stone arch, and the other goes through a tunnel to the island’s interior. Taking either results in the parcel description changing to “cross the bridges”. And indeed, there are wooden bridges to cross; although if you went through the tunnel, you’ll need to master climbing the rock face first (up a set of pretty obvious “steps”.
“Social Island” is perhaps well-named. There was a lot of chatting going-on when I arrived. Admittedly it was of the “Help!” variety of conversation – which included comments like, “What am I supposed to be doing?”, “Can anyone tell me what this is?”, and, “Does anyone else here use IMVU? Why isn’t this like it?” (yes, honestly, that is exactly what was being asked) – but at least people were communicating and socialising. Sort-of.
Perhaps the most disheartening thing was – again, my direct experience – trying to help a newcomer, only to have her respond, “I hate this,” before she vanished, presumably logging-off into the ether, never to return.
The path leads newcomers to a single teleport portal which uses the experience tools teleport capability to deliver them to one of the Learning Islands. Here things are, if anything, slightly more confusing – again with the caveat that it may be a work-in-progress.
Newcomers initially arrive at a welcome point. The most immediate path leads directly to the teleport portals which were used in the Destination Islands. However, this is not all the island has to offer. Follow the other paths, and there are various locations to visit – a tiki beach set-up, a club (with freebies), a lighthouse, a house built into a cave, and so on.
These actually provide opportunities for people to learn something about interacting with objects in SL – although the “lessons” are currently reliant on people randomly clicking on things. At the tiki beach houses, for example, there is at least one wall-mounted television which will play a SL promotional video when touched. There are also various kinds of seats to sit in which offer insights in to things like menu dialogues and selecting from menus. The lighthouse offers a touch-to-teleport, carrying you from the ground level to upper balcony level, the beach club offers dancing, freebies and a flying chair (demonstrating how you can use some objects to get around in-world).
There are life belts along the beach front which will set you floating on the Linden water (although it is trial and error to use one). Hidden down on the beach is a teleport system which helps you get around (assuming you can find it – I only came across the one, in a cave & failed to find corresponding teleporters at any of the destinations it offered. A not-particularly-user-friendly aspect of the teleport is that one destination is a sky platform which the only way off being a cheery invitation to step off the end and fall (presumably as an incentive for people to work out how to fly, if they’ve not done so already – but some form of instruction would actually be nice).
It would appear that the Learning islands are intended to provide a form of “learn by clicking” mixed with opportunities to join with other new arrivals and perhaps discover things together. As already noted, I’ve no idea whether any support signage or other guidance is planned – but if so, one has to ask why wasn’t it provided prior to the areas being opened to new users. As it stands, it is hard to judge whether this new approach offers any significant advantage over any other approach.
But then again, that’s what testing is about – and certainly, just because there isn’t signage available now, doesn’t mean more in the way of guidance / help cannot be provided as the Lab itself learns from the new approach.
It would be very easy to dismiss what is offered here as being another moment of “fail” for Linden Lab in its attempts to get to grips with easing new users into SL. However, and while I did find such that is lacking in the approach as it appears at this point in time, I’m not prepared to do so. Not yet, at least. The benefit of the doubt is worth giving for the time being, as this may very well be an evolutionary process.
I say this because prior to it going live, Rod Humble did make it clear the new process would be undergoing A/B testing. So presumably that Lab are currently focused on seeing how people manage and whether a bare-bones approach is any better / worse than the “bring ’em and push ’em out” approach of the Destination Islands.
It’s easy to look back on our own experience as a new user and determine that because it worked for us, it is the “obvious” way to go about things. However, as the Lab themselves have pointed out, every approach taken with new users has had specific strengths and weaknesses and none of them have proven particularly effective when compared with one another over the years. Ergo, what appears to be the “obvious” answer may not necessarily be so – which is again why the Lab might be feeling its way once more.
As such, my own decision is to hold back on any judgement until there is some indication that the approach is going to be tweaked, or whether this pretty much is it.
What I will say, based on my personal experience with the new approach, is that something does need to be done to ease the confusion felt by newcomers to SL. And it is confusion, as evidenced by the questions being asked by those already on the beach when I arrived.
Given that Humble himself indicates that this initial work is supposed to be focused on “getting new users familiar with basic controls”, it is hard to fathom why absolutely no attempt is made to at least direct people to the one easy-to-use button in the viewer which should get new users at least part-way towards Humble’s goal. That button is How To.
It’s probably fair to say that considerable time and effort was put into developing this concise, graphical and easy-to-follow guide, yet it remains effectively tossed in the corner and forgotten. Oh sure, the button is there in the toolbar, but it would seem that by having the Destination Guide open by default, the Lab is diverting attention away from the button. Would it really be that hard to include some in-world pointer towards its existence from the outset? And why not update the pnaels displayed during the viewer installation process to include a shot of the button and floater with a suitable caption (“Use the How To button to help get you started when you log-in”)?
There is one thing that is abundantly clear from trying-out the new experience, however, although it is not actually directly connected with the learning process itself.
It is this: now that materials is out, and the Advanced Lighting Model (ALM) is active by default for an increasing number of users, the Lab seriously needs to ensure the footwear supplied with the default avatars is updated. Arriving in-world as a new user with shoes / feet as shown below (as a result of the footwear relying on invisiprims) isn’t a particularly positive statement for SL to make, however one looks at the rest of the new user process.
- Best of SL magazine Q&A with Rod Humble – June 2013
- New Destination Islands – help or hinder? – March 2012
* The results of which you’ll be able to read about in the near future, courtesy of Prim Perfect magazine, if all goes well
With thanks to Saffia for nudging me that the new user experience is running