Community Gateways: of APIs and verticals

The Firestorm Gateway incorporates their viewer orientation island and includes social areas for users
The Community Gateway Programme is still coming

I first wrote about the Lab’s new Community Gateway trial programme back in September 2015. At the time, it seemed as if the programme was reasonably close to being launched, potentially with up to 20 groups involved, one of them being the Firestorm team, who subsequently soft launched their gateway at the end of October 2015.

However, other than this, there hasn’t been a lot on the programme. So what is going on? Well, there have been one or two problems which are still being ironed out.

One of them is the user registration API by which new users establish their Second Life accounts,and which was initially supplied to groups enrolling in the new gateway trial programme doesn’t have any hooks into the current sign-up process used for Second Life. This means that users signing-up through it will not be able to pick one of the starter avatars offered by the registration process, but instead will initially arrive in-world using the male or female default Character Test avatars which (a long while ago now) replaced the infamous “Ruth” avatar.

As the gateway has to use the "old" SL registration API, users do not get to select the gender of their avatar until after they log-in (left), and are then defaulted to either the female or male Character Test avatar
And issue with deploying the Community Gateway trial programme has been that the user registration API doesn’t have any hooks into the avatar selection process as a part of user sign-up, so those coming through it initially have to use the default Character Test avatars

Obviously, this is far from ideal. First impressions count, and many people seeing their avatar for the first time and comparing it to the glossy images on the landing pages could end up feeling a tad bit aggrieved or disappointed and might even simply log off. This being the case, the Lab has been working on an updated API which will both address the avatar issue and apparently offer some other options as well. This was revealed by Ebbe Altberg during his session at the 2016 Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education conference, on Wednesday, March 9th:

We also have a lot of interesting things coming in the pipeline. An improved registration API, so that it will be easier for institutions to bring on their customers or clients or students in a more pre-configured way: choosing what avatars they can select from, getting them set-up in the proper groups, and taking them through a whole custom on-board experience.

Another issue has been has been a matter of compliance and ensuring the correct safeguards are in place with regards who can collect what data – an important consideration when users will be signing-up to Second Life via gateways hosted on non-Lab servers. On this, Ebbe informed the VWBPE audience:

The Community Gateway programme is very much proceeding. I don’t have like a final ship date for it; it goes very much hand-in-hand with the registration API work we have to do. We had to spend some more time on that than we originally thought, again for compliance; because who can collect what information in what context is something we had to solve for.

However, he indicated that things are now very much on track and a launch of the programme could be “just around the corner”. In addition, he also indicated that in order to help attract very specific audiences / market verticals to second Life – such as educators and education institutions and groups – the Lab is considering establishing its own gateways as well:

But once we get some community gateways going, we might even do some community gateways ourselves that are more vertically specific and make it more obvious to educators how to get on the platform, how to discover educationally relevant content, etc. That’s something we would like to do for a number of different verticals. It just remains to be seen which of those gateways we might operate versus which ones are better managed by in-world groups or teams or companies.

This aspect of dedicated gateways could be particularly pertinent to encouraging more specialised verticals into Second Life. If nothing else, having the gateways run directly by Linden Lab instils a level for trust which might be harder to establish between client and gateway where the latter is being run by a small group (albeit very dedicated) Second Life users who may not necessarily have any legal or other affiliation with the client or the platform. For another,  the Lab can probably market such gateways to their prospective audience a lot more energetically then might otherwise be the case, simply because they have the budget to do so.

So. The Community Gateway programme is still on its way, and it will be interesting to see which communities are directly involved, and how Linden Lab go about offering their own vertically specific gateways.