It is five months since the Sansar public Creator Beta opened. At the time it did I, along with many others, felt that maybe – from a “consumer” user perspective – the opening was perhaps a little premature: there was (and remains) little for general visitors to the platform to do – particularly those accessing platform via Desktop Mode – who would likely be in the majority. Of course, the aim of the Creator Beta was to … encourage more creators to the platform, rather than growing the platform’s user base.
In the five months since that launch, there have been developments and improvements to the platform – and I have remained interested in seeing how the platform builds out. The Desktop Mode – the means by which, frankly, the vast majority of people are liable to use for access Sansar for the foreseeable future – in particular has seen some important improvements, although there is still a long way to go.
However, recently the Lab has indicated that in 2018 they’d like to start addressing issues of generally user attraction and retention – which is fair enough. What has surprised me, however, is the idea – floated at a recent Sansar Community Meet-up – that some kind of “consumer launch” (consumer = non-creator user) is being considered for the platform in 2018.
This actually surprises me; there is still so much that needs to be put in place on a technical level alone which is needed to help encourage usability. There’s the whole permissions / licensing system – vital in allowing creators offer their goods on more flexible terms (e.g. modifiable); providing the means for avatars to interact – dance, sit, etc; offering a customisable avatar, and so on. The Lab has indicated much of this is complex work, and proving difficult to implement. Should this continue to be the case, then trying to push the platform to a broader consumer user base before the end on 2018 seems to be a tad optimistic at best; at worst, it could be self-defeating should people find that while Sansar looks good, there is really little for them to do.
Nor, I’d also suggest, are there just technical issues to be faced when considering drawing in a broader audience. Two things in particular have been on my mind for some time now.
The first is Sansar’s blog / forum / knowledge base environment. Currently, this is based on ZenDesk – which is singularly unsuited to the task to which it has been put. As I noted in a recently Product Meeting, the Lab has now recognised this in is looking at options, including possibly using the platform and tools used to build the Second Life “community platform”. This is actually good news, although as I noted in those Product Meeting notes:
Frankly, I’m still stunned that this wasn’t the route taken from the start given the Lab have the tools and the experience to use them, which could have been easily leveraged, rather than going for a tool entirely unsuited to the task and which presents information in a very unfriendly – and dare I say amateur – manner.
Simply put, the Lab has an ample investment in the SL community platform tools in terms of time, effort and development experience. That they apparently opted to ignore all of that to try to reinvent the wheel using a tool evidently unsuited to the task seems nothing short of an exercise in disconnected thinking.
Sansar needs and deserves a descent community environment. Yes, there is Discord, and yes, it is more ideal to have user-to-user interactions within Sansar experiences, rather than by people sitting in forums, etc. But the fact is, forums, blogs, a structured knowledge base, all supported by a decent search engine do far more than “just” provide a space for users to interact: the forum a core aspect of news and information dissemination, as such their value simply shouldn’t be under-estimated or dismissed as something to consider somewhere down the road.
There’s something more here as well. Not only can a decent community platform form the backbone for communications (via outwards blog posts, through forums discussions, the provision of documentation, etc), it can do much to help boost ta platform’s web presence and attractiveness to potential users. Again, right now Sansar’s website – beyond the initial splash screen – is both simplistic and confusing – and not a little bland. Surfacing blogs, forums, etc., immediately adds depth to Sansar’s website and presents the opportunity to draw people in to the platform – if done right.
The second thing I’d like to see the Lab address when considering encouraging more “consumer” users into Sansar, is that of the Atlas.
Again, we’ve already seen some improvements here: the ability search listed experiences and to list those offered by friends, and we have the promise of indicators for how many people are in any given experience. Even so, with over 700 experiences already listed, finding those which relate to a specific interest is hard. Of course, the idea with Sansar is for experience creators to be able to direct an audience to their experiences through their own web presence – and this will be more than enough for some of the markets the Lab hope (/ are?) attempting to attract to Sansar.
However, for the broader audience of potential users who may well come to the platform by way of the web, providing the means for creators to categorise their experiences and for users to group / select experiences based on those categories would be of and undeniable benefit – even with the complexities involved in defining / managing suitable categories. Additionally, providing a means for people to directly “bookmark” experiences that interest them within the Atlas would also be of enormous benefit.
I admit to remaining unconvinced that Sansar is really ready for a “consumer” audience. However, if the Lab is determined to move in that direction, I at least hope that things like updating the forums / blog environment and making the Atlas more amenable for users to locate / record the kind of experience they’d like to visit, is given as much attention as issues of presenting improved “in scene / experience” capabilities.