During 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 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.”
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.”
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.
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.