While at the TPV meeting on June 20th, 2014, Ebbe Altberg didn’t only address questions on the new virtual world platform the Lab is developing. The session actually kicked-off with a discussion of user retention in Second Life and the new user experience.
Some eight minutes were devoted to the discussion, of which around five and a half were taken-up by Ebbe talking through ideas, and the remaining time either with questions or with reminiscences about mentors and the old mentor programme. The audio presented here represents all of Ebbe’s comments on the subject, together with a transcription for those who prefer to read his comments.
The first question was whether the Lab had any further ideas for trying to improve user retention.
Well, there are lots of different types of users, and I think we can make it easier for some users without losing the power for other users. But yeah, that is a tremendous challenge, allowing for this incredible flexibility, openness, freedom, and at the same time make it simple.
I am convinced there’s a lot of things we can do, not necessarily in the short-term, but in the medium-to-long term that going to make things a lot easier.
I mean, just coming in and getting dressed is a major undertaking, and it shouldn’t have to be. There’s a lot of stuff that is geekier than it need to be; what the hell does it mean to “detach” something from your avatar and stuff like that?
So I think the user interface can improve a lot. and obviously, a lot of the work that you guys have just discussed here [Experience Tools, etc] will make retention improve. When the quality improves, performance improves, that will do a lot as well. It’ll just take users a while to notice and appreciate, and therefore get sticker. It seems to me, the metric seems to indicate, you know, some potential extra stickiness is going on. We’ll have to see; we’ll have to wait a little longer to be sure about that.
But when I talk about making in “simpler”, I’m not suggesting I’m trying to make it dumber or less powerful. So it’s going to take some smart people quite some time to solve for, but we have to try really hard to continuously make it easier.
Hopefully we can have something with the power of Second Life, but appealing to hundreds of millions, and not just a million; we have to figure out how to get there.
The next question was whether Ebbe was aware of the official mentor programme, and whether he would consider bringing that back.
[1:57] I was actually in-world yesterday [Thursday June 19th, 2014] with a group of people, many of whom have been part of that, and so we started conversations. There’s a lot of sub-groups participating in that conversation, of helpers.
I think the difficulty is, for our perspective, or why it might have been discontinued, is how do you manage it at scale? Who do you trust? Who’s behaving? Who’s not behaving? I think that might have been a part of it.
But I think that also a lot of those efforts were unfortunately discontinued as a part of the big layoff back in the day, when a lot of things were thrown out of the window whether it made completely sense to stop those types of things or not.
[2:43] Personally, I’m in big favour of a – what was at the beginning, what was it called? Community Portal? … Community Gateway programme – to enable creators to attract their own audience into their experiences. I think ultimately, if we’re going to scale way beyond a million users but tens of millions or hundreds of millions, we have to allow creators to be able to attract an audience from the outside world directly into their experiences.
There we have to think about what does that mean? Does it become some kind of co-shared, co-branded on-boarding experience for people? Because there are too many unique communities and verticals and experiences, that we can’t correctly advertise and drive traffic to those experiences, and it would be much more powerful if the creators could sort-of attract their own audience, and that’s much more scalable. That’s the way I think about it, but how long it will take to get there, I’m not sure.
[3:43] So we’re actually experimenting right now, where we’re doing A/B tests with a welcome island as we know it, and a second welcome island with a live helper so we can A/B test the conversion rates and the stickiness of the product. Obviously, one person is not going to do it, but we’re starting with one person as a very consistent way of treating people coming in. and then we can see what the actual performance differences [are] between those two experiences. We’ve also tried with audio on and audio off.
So we’re doing these little A/B tests to see what works, and if we find that having a live greeter there has a meaningful conversion rate improvement , then we just have to figure out how we can scale that, so we can have people able to meet everybody.
I haven’t seen statistics come out of that yet. I saw some stats of audio versus no audio, and it was like a tiny, tiny, plus for no audio, so we’re now trying with no audio, or no speech, so that … but other things we can do is maybe only certain people can get to the welcome island … and [not] having cuckoo folk show up there … Having a way to … we can technically potentially solve it so that we don’t have to have people kicking people out, but you could be sort of, only new users or … and if you’re a brand-new user, it’s a little harder to grief than if you’re and existing user.
Anyway, it’s stuff we’re actively playing with. I’ll try to figure out when we’ll have statistically relevant numbers from the tests we’re doing, and then we’ll go from there.
[At this point the discussion moves to PR as a means of reaching out to new users, and then moves into the discussion of the Lab’s next generation platform.]
Community Gateways offer perhaps the most flexible means to meet the needs of incoming users (image: The Snow Lion, Oceanside dAlliez (Flickr))
The first interesting point of note here – and with the benefit of hindsight – is the first clue is given that the Lab is looking towards another platform for mass adoption:
“Hopefully we can have something with the power of Second Life, but appealing to hundreds of millions…” [my emphasis]
The idea of enabling established users to be able to build tailored on-boarding experiences which not only get newcomers involved in their activities, but also provide them with sufficient guidance to be able enjoy the rest of what a platform has to offer, could be a powerful move in the right direction. Not only does it resolve issues of scalability, it is also something that delivers the on-boarding process more squarely to users within a platform, something many in SL want to see.
It will be interesting to see if the Lab actively pursue such an approach with SL, or whether it is something they’ll look more towards implementing in-depth on the new platform. Perhaps we’ll see a little bit of both; the Lab initially “trialing” such an approach on SL, prior to enhancing / expanding it with their new platform.
The further A/B testing with the current on-boarding process is interesting. Even if one discounts 90% of the current 350,000 (ish) monthly sign-ups as alt creation or spambots*, that’s still potentially 35,000 new users month who are coming into SL, of whom around 80% have apparently evaporated within a month. So any attempts to increase on this are to be welcomed.
That said, whether user retention can be signficantly increased by tweaking at the edges of the current on-boarding process is debatable. I tend to still be of a mind that without finding the means to connect incoming new users on a more “social” level with others within SL, attempts at increasing user retention will be limited in success. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what comes out of the current A/B testing – and in seeing just where else the Lab is willing to invest time and effort in order to try to increase SL’s retention levels.
*Footnote: some claim that 99% of this number is the result of spambots which never actually go on to download the viewer, much less log-in. While I agree that the potential number of sign-up hits by bots is likely to be high, placing it that high is perhaps a stretch, and points toward’s Marcello Truzzi’s statement that such an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.