Taking a peek at the latest new user experience

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?

One of the explanatory text panels displayed during the viewer installation process
One of the explanatory text panels displayed during the viewer installation process. note the viewer 2.0 UI, complete with sidebar!

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.

"Where am I? What am I supposed to do?" A plaintive question from a newcomer on the beach at Social Island
“Where am I? What am I supposed to do?” A plaintive question from a newcomer on the beach at Social Island

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 Social Islands appeared geared towards getting people walking around and perhaps talking - although much of the conversation might be pleas for help from genuine newcomers...
The Social Islands appeared geared towards getting people walking around and perhaps talking – although much of the conversation might be pleas for help from genuine newcomers…

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.

Overhead view of the new Learning Island
Overhead view of the new Learning Island. The arrival point is lower left, the “Club SL” lower right, tiki beach top left (with nearby “hidden” teleporter) and lighthouse to the right. The large rock formation centre bottom contains an underground cavern / house or sorts.

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).

The Tiki Beach area
The tiki beach area

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.

Initial Thoughts

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.

Can you fly? If not the first step at the end of the walkway might just be a bit of a big one...
Can you fly? If not the first step at the end of the walkway might just be a bit of a big one…

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”)?

Footwear

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.

Dear LL, please sort out the footwear supplied to your default avatars.
Dear LL, please sort out the footwear supplied to your default avatars. Please.

Related Links

* 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

21 thoughts on “Taking a peek at the latest new user experience

    1. You should know that new users either appreciate a new platform or they don’t. What does make you think that a new user will even invest his/her precious time looking for interesting content if the world makers obviously can’t bother to make the starting avatar right? Penny Patton had outlined LL incapability to properly present the platform to new users more than half a year ago. And LL can still notget such a basic thing right at the revamp? I feel like crying! http://pennycow.blogspot.fr/2012/12/a-critical-look-at-second-life-part-1.html

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      1. Crap wasn’t being literal. He was applying a measure of acerbic wit / sarcasm aimed at LL to underline the fact that, as you point out, they still have yet to address a long-standing issue. One which is even more prominent now that ALM tends to be active by default.

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  1. You know, there are a number of experienced educators in SL. These people are experts in task analysis. They have spent their careers not only establishing performance objectives and breaking every task down into its smallest steps, but also anticipating at every step what possible misunderstandings are likely to occur. In other words, they design curriculum.

    It is really very simple. What SL needs to design the new user experience is someone who is an expert in exactly these things, as any competent, experienced educator is.

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    1. It’s an interesting point, and very similar to something Drax recently suggested in more general terms – that the Lab needs not only to hire engineers, but also one or two people with a background in social sciences who understand the nunaces of human interaction, etc.

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        1. And I have some even more shocking ideas, such as banning repeat offenders from the forums and the feeds at the same time, prohibit sockpuppetry on the forums and feeds (i.e. if you have any number of alts, only your main account will be allowed to post), enable the master account feature Argent Stonecutter proposed (hey, accountability never hurt anyone IMO), adopt Penny Patton’s camera offsets as default (oh yes) etc.

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    2. It’s it amusing how the Lab will round up a gang of overly-eager volunteers to run their birthday for them, but they’re terrified of having actual expert educators anywhere near the education experience for onboarding new customers?

      -ls/cm

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  2. Yesterday I created a new account for mesh testing and was put through the “old” throw-them-to-the-wolves Unwelcoming Island. The one thing they need to do in either experience is add an oversize, impossible to hide until you are on the main grid Help button. It would also help if they got the dialog that help button calls up right!

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    1. Ah! Thanks for that.

      Given they are apparently doing A/B testing, I did wonder if there might be some switch in place which could be directing new users between the two experiences on some criteria or other (numbers logging-in?) – which is what A/B testing is all about. Then I dismissed the idea on the basis LL perhaps had a good stack of data on the Destination Islands approach which could be used to compare with the new system.

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      1. I think the Lab should look at the tutorial new users are given in browser games like Ikariam and Grepolis. That should help them identify ways to guide new users around the viewer’s basic and more advanced functions. And an option to repeat the tutorial if the user forgets something wouldn’t hurt, either.

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        1. The viewer has a basic tutorial. One was developed for the Basic Mode viewer 2 & carried forward when Basic was re-merged with the viewer.

          It could arguably do with a little expansion, but the fact is, it’s there, it vistual demonstrates walking, talking, interacting with objects, etc.

          It’s just (again, arguably) not pointed to in any obvious way & left to the user to find the button and click it – which many seem not to be doing, at least in my limited exposure to the new user experience areas through the avatar I had “parked” in them to monitor if / how things developed.

          Certainly, in logging-in with that account, I’ve tended to find myself answering questions & manually directing people to the button as a place to start.

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  3. Check out my blog post about the new user regions > http://danielvoyager.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/linden-lab-revamps-new-user-experience-social-island-and-learning-island/

    Things I like
    * I like the new setup window for Second Life – makes you feel more welcome than the plain boring window before
    * Learning Island there many nice areas to visit and it makes the experience more of a adventure than in previous formats of new user regions

    Improvements:
    * Social Island is really empty in terms of information areas + I think having info, freebies, video tutorials, basics of SL and places to visit on the grid would be good to have.
    * We need a mentor program or resident run help program there to help newcomers through the new user regions
    * A free welcome hud would be useful for newcomers

    Hopefully Linden Lab will improve these new regions and keep adding to them. 🙂

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    1. Hi Daniel.

      The set-up window has been around since at least March of 2012; I first noticed it with the arrival of the Destination Islands, as noted in my article. It appears even older than that given all the images are lifted from the old v 2.x viewer, so it may have been around even before that.

      I’m assuming from comments received elsewhere and interviews given in BOSL, etc., that the new experience is going to possibly be an evolving process, so it will be interesting to see what LL do if that is the case.

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  4. I asked to a “guinea pig” to try it out. In order to not influence her and to have a genuine newbie experience, I didn’t gave advices, I only watched.
    Results:
    – she logs in. An empty island with no clues. She seems lost and disappointed already: “And now? Is that all? The famous Second Life?”.
    – Anyway she tries to walk around. Arrows keys work, but she thinks that her avatar walks in a funny way. Eventually she points toward a circular building in her view, but there is a tight rock bridge to cross and she, not used to the controls, falls down. Ops! [good job LL, what about to add traps for newbies? LOL]
    – even more lost now, she roams on the sand and the water below, with no clue about how to escape from there and how to return back.
    – she sees another female avatar in the water, but she is AFK. Maybe another newbie fallen down there.
    – Although frustrated, she tries to find a path or something. She walks all along the beach, first in a direction, then back. No way: for her, it ends in nothing in both the directions.
    – As if she wasn’t frustrated enough, a dude send to her an IM, asking for sex (ouch! That wasn’t expected).
    – She has enough of everything (no wonder…) and closes “this crap”.

    It looks like something is missing with the “welcome”, the “introduction” and the “social” part.

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    1. My Idea was to eventually help her to get out, instead there are even those pervs. I felt sorry. I wonder how many people tried SL, just to be scared by all this, newer coming back.

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      1. The sex thing is unfortunate – and not something I’ve encountered with my account “parked” at the Destination Islands or when it “moved” to the new Social Islands, although it is a common issue at in-world hubs & is something of an issue. In terms of the new user areas, perhaps I was lucky.

        I did come across a number of afk avatars in both the Social and Learning Islands. I suspect that, rather than true newbies, these were established users who had “parjed” their “new” accounts while doing other things; most of the newcomers I did encounter were trying to work things out, asking for help and generally confused / running into things. Or talking about IMVU. Those who made it to the Learning Islands did seem to have a little more patience and willingness to explore. On a return visit with my “parked” account (which I’d left in one of the Learning Islands), I did encounter one other established user who was trying to provide help for newcomers.

        Even so, the new environment is far from ideal, and I’m certainly hoping we’ll see more development of it over time.

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