Community Gateways set for a return to Second Life

secondlifeDuring the SL12B “Meet the Lindens” presentations, mention was made a number of times about the new user on-boarding process, and steps the Lab are and would be taking to try to improve the overall experience for those signing-up to Second Life.

There were two aspects mentioned during the talks which piqued my interest. One of them was the Lab’s use of new web landing pages – something I’ll be discussing with Peter Gray, the Lab’s director of global Communications, in an upcoming article.  The other was the potential return of the Community Gateway Programme.

For those unfamiliar with the latter, at one time the Lab ran a programme which allowed communities to connect to the Second Life registration pathway, enabling them to steer incoming users directly to their own orientation / support environment, and thus provide them with assistance and hands-on support in getting started in SL. The programme was discontinued in August 2010, with the Lab citing several reasons for doing so, including issues around scalability and management oversight, together with question marks around the overall effectiveness of the programme.

However, there have been repeated calls from within the community for the Lab to bring the programme back, and this now appears to be what is happening, initially as a test to see how things go.

The community Gateway Programme, discontinued in August 2010, allowed communities to connect to the registration path and bring users directly to their own orientation / support areas - such as Help People Island (which itself discontinued in 2011)

The new programme is designed to allow communities and groups bring users into Second Life, present them with help and support in getting started, much like the original Gateway programme, and hopefully present them with interests and activities to keep them engaged with the platform. These gateways will include web pages to attract new users to them, which will include a registration API to allow those users to sign-up to SL and create and account without necessarily having to go through the central registration process at secondlife.com. Additionally, if they wish, those running the gateway can provide dedicated links for downloading a viewer (official or TPV).

I caught up with Patch Linden on the matter at the end of July, to find out some more. “We are bringing back Community Gateways as a test, based on the positive feedback and indicators of success they had in the past,” he confirmed with me. “We have 20 Gateways with whom we’re currently in discussions, but we’ve not decided on all of the programme details yet and plan to take an organic approach to re-establishing things.”

Did this mean those involved in the new programme would be able to bring new users directly into their experience, I asked, or would they have to go via the current sign-up page, and have new users connect to them via the existing Learning Island / Social Island portal system?

“We’d like to allow gateway creators to help bring in users,” Patch replied.The idea is that the new registrant would begin their time in SL in the experience that matches their interest, instead of Learning Island.” He paused and then added, “However, adding Gateways to the end of Learning Island and/or Social Island are still being considered.”

Communities and organisations within SL have attempted to offer guidance to new users, including the UWA, with their education-focus guidance for students and teachers arriving in SL - find out more about it here

Communities and organisations within SL have continued to offer guidance to new users. The UWA, for example, offer the SL Educate orientation, designed by Carmsie Melodie and focused specifically at students and teachers arriving in Second Life. You can read more about it here

A look at the Firestorm Gateway

One of the groups involved in the new Gateway Programme is the Firestorm team. Together with a number of other groups offering new user orientation facilities, they participated in a 6-week experiment run by the Lab to monitor how new sign-ups faired as a result of passing through their orientation process, and gather comparative retention data. Following this, Firestorm were one of the groups invited into the upcoming new Gateway Programme.

“The Gateway idea is mostly based on a single region,” Jessica Lyon, Firestorm’s Project Manager said as she and Ed Merryman gave me a tour of their new user experience shortly after I’d talked to Patch Linden. “But you know me🙂. I wasn’t satisfied with one region – if we were going to do this, we wanted to do it right!”

The result is that the Firestorm Gateway comprises six regions in total, including the original Firestorm Support region, which has been re-purposed to fit with the Gateway approach. “One of the new regions is going to be a Firestorm Orientation for new sign ups only,” Jessica continued as we explored, “it’ll be a similar to our current orientation island.”

Firestorm are participating in the new Gateway Programme, offering an experience focused around their self-help orientation island

Firestorm are participating in the new Gateway Programme, offering an experience focused around their orientation island

The rest of the regions offer an assortment of facilities and activities intended to help new users get better acquainted with Second Life, using the viewer, and participating in some of the activities they can find during their in-world travels. A staffed support area provides practical help and support, for example, while users can also enjoy activities such as jet skis, sailing, boating, and flying within the regions, or try their hand at a scuba diving adventure.

There’s also an amphitheatre (under construction at the time of my visit) which will be used for events focused on new users, viewer Q&A sessions, and so on, while social areas around the island will offer new users the opportunity to relax and meet with established SL users as well.

Firestorm also aim to help people discover popular activities such as flying, boating, and boating in Second Life

Firestorm also aim to help people discover popular activities such as flying, boating, and scuba diving in Second Life

To help draw users to the experience, Firestorm will also be remodelling their website, allowing it to be linked to the Lab’s user registration process. Thus, people visiting the website will be able to sign-up to Second Life, select their avatar, download the Firestorm viewer and log-in directly to the Firestorm new user experience, reflecting Patch’s view that new users should be able to directly reach the experience which interests them. Other participants in the Gateway Programme will be able to offer similar sign-up / log-in capabilities for people to reach their experiences as well.

As noted earlier in this article, the new Gateway Programme isn’t quite ready for launch at present – but it will be soon. When it does so, the Lab will be publishing more information on it, including participation guidelines, and I’ll be offering a follow-up to this article at that time.

Similarly, the Firestorm regions are ready for opening just yet; when they do, I’ll be bringing you a in-depth review of the facilities and Firestorm’s approach to the new user experience.

My thanks to Pete Linden, Patch Linden, Jessica Lyon and Ed Merryman for their time and assistance in writing this article.

15 thoughts on “Community Gateways set for a return to Second Life

  1. Pamela

    The Firestorm team has a great concept, and these are people in touch daily with the nuts and bolts of educating users, something LL apparently abandoned years ago. I am hopeful that in their hands there will be a much higher retention rate.

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  2. The temporary one

    Great news story it really shows how much Linden Lab are really trying to turn things around by helping create growth across the communities, ‘ If only Inara can convince them to update the 12+ year old ground textures strangling the mainlands..’ Can you imagine how much more valuable to residents the land would be with pretty ground textures combined with better region windlight settings..they could even add autumn & spring areas for the first time.

    6 regions around mine that were abandoned i had asked those who left why? ‘they claimed the area was ugly and outdated’ (generic windlight settings combined with ugly 12+ yr old rock as terrain’,this could be done with one bot with instructions for each region while maybe finished in 3 days if the bot only took a minute at each location.

    Out of anything the lab might need to convince residents they are not abandoning sl or the mainlands this would be it!. so easy to show results on a huge scale while improving residents quality of life with very little cost to the lab.

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    1. Inara Pey Post author

      Well, I can say that further improvements to region windlight capabilities are on the Lab’s roadmap, if that helps!

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  3. Pingback: Firestorm 5th anniversary celebrations & Community Gateways are returning | Daniel Voyager's Blog

  4. Ravelli Ormstein

    “Ne sutor supra crepidam.” – The Firestorm team should focus on the viewer development, where they make great work, instead of interfering the work other groups have far more experience with. Some of the former Community Gateways are still around and active. Firestorms level of awareness might cause a massive drop of visitor traffic to those traditional CGs. Give them a chance!

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    1. Inara Pey Post author

      Well, let’s be fair here.

      Firestorm in fact have tremendous experience in helping new users (and established users for that matter). They do it daily, week in, week out. They provide classes in using the viewer, they provide help and support to users in understanding wider aspects of Second life, and for the last three years, they’ve run a complete new user orientation service. So it can be argued that they are as experienced as anyone else in providing support and assistance.

      As it is, there will be perhaps as many as 20 Gateways involved in the (initial?) programme when it officially launches, all with the ability to make use of the registration API once more and draw users directly to their orientation experience and thus help grow Second Life.

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      1. iSkye Silverweb

        I look forward to seeing the return of the Community Gateways because they served a range of different needs, like foreign language speakers (Virtual Spain), roleplay communities (1920s Berlin Project), individuals with special needs (Virtual Ability), and ongoing support (White Tiger Mentors), art communities, and on and on. They helped to integrate newcomers into the communities thereby increasing the rate of retention of those newcomers.

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        1. Inara Pey Post author

          It will be interesting to see which groups / communities have been invited into & accepted a position in the test programme and to see how things go and develop. As Patch has indicated that participation guidelines will be made available once things are formally launched, I assume other groups which may not have been approached will also have the opportunity of joining the programme.

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          1. Julius (@KwameOh)

            The pertinence of your comment above is most relevant “It will be interesting to see which groups / communities have been invited into & accepted a position in the test programme and to see how things go and develop”

            After various investments in SL and lets be honest that’s what it entails building hiring of staff and other such, having gone through the various attempts at what has always been hailed as “community building” when active in London , shall watch this version 2.0 with interest .

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  5. zzpearlbottom

    Well I just wish that firestorm is not becoming “per facto” the official viewer.
    I guess all those newbies will use it asap, instead of LL viewer or any other tpv.
    And i would rejoice if i didnt feel that firestorm viewer is the worse choice for any newbie to learn to be in world, with so many features that are mostly useless to any without full knowledge and experience how to be in world.

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    1. Inara Pey Post author

      In terms of newcomers, again as noted, Firestorm is just one of up to 20 Gateways. As such, and depending on preferences and leanings, all of them have the equal opportunity to promote through the web, draw users into their Gateways and deliver a viewer (which I admittedly would prefer to be the official viewer, simply because it does provide the “essentials”), and get people started.

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  6. Pingback: The Community Gateway Thingamajig | Thar She Blows!

  7. zzpearlbottom

    In fact i would dare to say, i would wish that only the official viewer is was allowed.
    LL would had to really find skilled ppl to sort the bugs Tpv’s are finding and solving for them for free and Tpv developers could focus on creating viewers for open sim instead, while it would be much much easer to teach a newbee to be in sl, instead of telling, 1st thing you need to do is get ride of the official viewer and install some that a newbee will not understand, a 3th party viewer, that will make him/her wonder if there is nothing strange behind that request and will make them quit asap.( a virus or some worse, and with the reputation of sls being as it is, i really wonder how many newbies just quited cause some told them they would need to use a diff viewer of the official one, that despite all, works pretty well overall.

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