Note: the following is based on a conversation at the end of the TPV developer meeting held on Thursday, April 7th. A video is available, and the discussion commences at the 37:43 mark. As such, the following is my interpretation on matters, rather than an official overview from the Lab.
As most people are aware, the Lab is working with a number of groups across Second Life to re-introduce the Community Gateway programme to help bring new users into Second Life. For more background on this, please refer to be September 2015 introductory blog post on the approach.
The original gateway 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 its overall effectiveness in bringing new users into SL. However, there have been repeated calls over the years for it to be re-introduced, and the planned pilot programme is a response to these calls.
However, as I recently reported, there has been a slight issue around matters of legal compliance. Essentially, the Lab need to ensure that sensitive user information, such as account passwords, have to be handled directly by the Lab’s own registration services – they cannot be passed through a third-party service as would be the case with the new gateways, were they to use the current new user registration API.
To try to get around this, the Lab initially suggested the gateways make use of the “old” user registration API, as used with the original gateway programme. While this does handle account details through the Lab’s services, thus meeting legal requirements, it also has a major downside: there are no hooks into things like the web-based avatar picker. This means that when using it, new users cannot select a modern avatar, but instead are delivered in-world with either the default male or female Character Test Avatar (below) – hardly an ideal approach, given how the test avatars look.
In order to try to improve things, the Lab had toyed with the idea that users would be able sign-up through the third-party gateways, but would have a temporary account password delivered to them via e-mail from the Lab, which they could initially use to log-in to SL, and be able to change via secondlife.com.
While it is actually not uncommon for on-line services to use e-mail exchanges as a part of their sign-up process (e.g. to verify a person’s e-mail address), this approach was seen as potentially too intrusive with the SL sign-up, with fears raised that it could put new users off as the swap back and forth between sign-up pages and e-mail.
In response to this, the Lab are now proposing (and currently QA testing) an alternative approach. During the user registration process, the incoming new user is directed to a secure page hosted by Linden Lab, where they set-up their account details, before being returns to the gateway sign-up pages to complete their on-boarding and coming in-world (so it is like opting to pay for goods on website using your PayPal account and being redirected to PayPal’s secure server to make the payment before being returned to the website).
Some concern has been voiced that this approach may still be off-putting to new users, however, it is hoped that it will be transparent enough to offer a more integrated sign-up flow than would be the case with the use of e-mails. There is still no indication as to when the revised API will be made available to groups in the trial gateway programme, but it has been approved by the Lab’s legal and compliance people, so hopefully once testing has been completed, we should hear more official news about it directly from the Lab. programme should resume moving forward “soon”.