In May 2015, I wrote about the Lab’s work in adding Experience keys to their Learning Islands, the first in-world destination for new users joining Second Life through the Lab’s sign-up process. At the time, Peter Gray, the Lab’s Director of Global Communications, indicated the approach was one of a number the Lab were experimenting with, while subsequent to the article, Ebbe Altberg indicated that Lab was continuing with A/B testing of various approaches to getting new users started in Second Life.
Thanks to a nudge from Cube Republic, I’ve had the opportunity of trying-out one of the more recent aspects of this work, by paying a visit to one of a set of four Social Islands, which form the second stop incoming users make on their initial journey in-world, and which have been both redesigned by the Lab and which now also use Experience Keys to help new users gain greater familiarity with using Second Life.
The new Social Islands offer something of a Graeco-Roman feel (top image), presenting a number of circular structures linked by broad stairways and paths, sitting within a rocky island landscape. On arrival, newcomers receive a HUD which attaches to the to left of their screen before stepping through a set of welcoming messages to get them started in their explorations.
The HUD has a number of easy-to-understand icons (? = help; speaker icon = toggle HUD sounds on / off; – = minimise the HUD; Next Step = click to page through instructions, where relevant), and updates with messages and instructions as the user explores the island.
Central to the islands is a pavilion, where information boards provide basic help and support, and which provides access to the various activities on the island. The first of these can be accessed directly from the pavilion, and present users with the opportunity to practice using their camera, find out about building in Second Life and also learn about buying goods in-world and via the Marketplace.
Stairs leading down to the ground level from the pavilion provide access to further activities, such as learning to interact with in-world objects at a beach bar or by using swings in an orchard, or learning the basics of vehicle driving by steering a boat through a course set over shark-infested water (swimming very inadvisable!), and so on.
As the HUD indicates, completion of the various tasks earns the user Linden Dollars. These are not added to the avatar’s account balance, but are indicated by a second HUD, which is attached as soon as the L$ start being earned. The balance obtained can then be used in the island’s shop to buy clothing, shoes, hair, and skins and shapes as means of introducing people to the concept of buying goods in Second Life.
A further section of the activities area offers a basic overview to in-world building, complete with a video overview courtesy of Magellan Linden and a couple of interactive elements. As an aside, I have to admit to being slightly bemused that a certain British Tabloid and a former south London community newspaper are featured in one of the demonstrations, simply because it was so unexpected.
The final part of the island is the portal area providing onward access to the rest of Second Life. This follows pretty much the same format as other versions of the Social island: a set of portals defined by category – art, role-play, popular places, editor’s picks from the Destination Guide, the Portal Parks, music and adult – which will deliver a user selecting one of them to one of several potential destinations. The portals are presented via a video providing more information on exploring SL, and users approaching them are presented with / advised to take a Landmark for the island so they can find their way back, if needed.
Feedback and Thoughts
This is a good step forward in helping to get new users started in SL. The Experienced based approach offers good flexibility of use striking reasonable balance between encouraging users to take the lessons whilst leaving them free to choose how they go about learning things or leaving them feeling their being frog-marched through a set of lessons.
The HUDs are easy to understand and work well, detaching automatically when the user departs and then re-attaching should they decided to come back, progress and tutorial L$ balance nicely intact.
The approach is not perfect – but no approach to handling new users ever will be – and I do tend to feel the teleport portals could be tightened a little more and perhaps linked back to some of the activities found within the island.
For example, while some established users might feel the overview to building is a little lightweight, I actually think it is reasonable given it’s likely that most incoming new users are more likely to learn towards being consumers than designers / builders. However, what would perhaps be beneficial is the inclusion of a portal licking to some of the very excellent building schools and resources within Second Life so that those who do have an interest in content creation can discover more on the subject.
Back in May 2015, I wrote:
Experience Keys certainly offer a raft of opportunities for easy learning activities along the lines of the old Orientation Islands of yesteryear, but with a potentially greater level of engagement and interaction.
While I’m not about to claim credit for anything presented at these newer Social Islands, I do feel that the approach taken with them tends to bear the above statement out, and is a good step forward over what we’ve seen to date within the Social Islands. As such, it would be interesting to learn, somewhere down the road, how well this approach fares, retention wise, when compared to users entering SL through the other set of Social Islands and – once they are up and running – the community gateways.