Second Life new user experience: themed Learning Islands

The Sci-Fi themed Learning Island

Over the past few months, several mentions on the idea of themed Learning Islands have cropped up in various public discussions featuring staff from Linden Lab – notably CEO Ebbe Altberg.

The idea is that rather than a user signing-up for Second Life via an advert and / or  landing page that delivers them to a “generic” learning island and then leaving them to discover things for themselves, incoming users will have a “path of interest” as it were, that leads them from an advert through the sign-up process and then delivers them in-world to a location in keeping with the theme of the ad that originally appealed to them.

– Ebbe Altberg discussing the themed Learning Islands idea in May 2018.

Broadly speaking, things run like this:

  • The Lab runs a web advertising campaign featuring a specific theme – such as “science fiction”.
  • Those clicking on an ad are taken to a Second Life landing page that matches the ad’s theme (example shown below).
  • A Play Now button allows people to sign-up to SL and which, when they log-in for the first time with the viewer, will deliver them to a Learning Island in keeping with the theme of the advert and landing page, where they can get started with using the viewer, etc.
  • As well as lessons / opportunities to learn, this themed Learning Island includes one (or more) portals which allow incoming users to reach the destinations appearing on the landing pages (and others like them).
Part of the Sci-Fi landing page, an example of the themed landing pages used in conjunction with the themed Learning Islands

The first of these campaigns / themed Learning Islands has been in testing for the last couple of months, and the next is about to be rotated into testing, as Brett Linden, head of Marketing for Second Life, informed me.

Linden Lab is still in the early weeks of testing the concept of Themed Learning Islands. The initiative began quietly a month or so ago with a Romance-themed island test that is not currently active. Next up is a Sci-Fi-themed learning island that we’ll begin testing very soon. We’re also looking at several other themes for future tests, [and] it is also possible that we’ll revise the Romance and Sci-Fi themes as we gather more data on them.

– Brett Linden, head of Second Life Marketing, Linden Lab,
discussing the new themed Learning Islands

The Romance Learning Island presents a wooded island with trails and climbs, with a central “quick learn” starting point covering the essentials of movement

Of course, putting an ad campaign backed by a sign-up process, etc., is only part of the story. There needs to be some means of assessing just how well (or otherwise) it is performing. Such assessment is very much core to all of the Lab’s user acquisition and retention efforts, with A/B testing being one of the primary methodologies they employ. This is the case  with these themed campaigns / islands as well, which will be tested from a number of perspectives.

Firstly, the themed campaigns and themed islands are operating alongside the Lab’s various other user acquisition campaigns and in-world learning islands. This allows the Lab to assess the overall effectiveness of each themed campaign compared to existing methods of acquisition / retention that take a more “non-themed” approach. Secondly, the themed Landing Islands within each campaign are being directly compared with their non-themed counterparts to assess their effectiveness in retaining a specific target audience, again as Brett informed me.

There is indeed an A/B test happening — where there are two equal themed landing pages with everything being identical in design/content — except for the Join URL. On the “A” version of the landing page, a click on Play Now will take you [via the sign-up process] to the non-themed learning island (currently used for most new users outside this test). The “B” version of this page contains the Join link that will direct [again via the sign-up process] the new user to the Themed Learning Island as their first login destination. In our paid ads that accompany this campaign, we’re distributing both the A and B versions of the landing page equally so that volume to each location will be equal.

– Brett Linden, head of Second Life Marketing, Linden Lab
on some of the Learning Island A/B testing

The Romance Learning Island presents core information on using the viewer to move, communicate and interact, and provides more general information on using Second Life

As a third level of testing, the Lab is using different approaches to the information provided within each type of Learning Island, again to assess what might be more or less effective in encouraging engagement and retention.

For example, the “Romance” themed Learning Island included what might be termed minimal user guidance beyond the basics of using the viewer to walk, jump, fly, communicate and interact. By contrast, the Sci-Fi island is far more hands-on with the user, with “main” and “advanced” tutorial areas, far more ways to impart information: info boards, local chat, links to external SL resources, etc.  In the future, other means of providing incoming users with information and to help them understand to basics of the viewer, etc., will be tested in specific theme types.

Thus it is possible for the Lab to investigate what works and what doesn’t in terms of information presented to an incoming user: is it too little or too much? Where might the balance between the two lie? Does a relaxed approach that lets the user learn on their own as the explore work, or is something more “formal” in layout better? Is it better to employ one approach to passing on information, or multiple means – text, boards, videos, web links?

The Sci-Fi themed Island provides a much broader learning experience, covering many more aspects of viewer use, with subject matter split between “Main” and “Advanced” tutorial areas

When not being tested, some of the themed Learning Islands may be opened to broader access from within Second Life. However, during testing, the islands are not publicly offered up for general access. The reasons for this are fairly clear if you stop to think about them, and Patch Linden summed them up succinctly.

We actually want to discourage public access to the islands while in testing so that our statistics, measuring and data-gathering don’t get influenced by having the islands inundated with established users coming into them and possibly preventing new users from naturally proceeding through the anticipated test flow. That way, we can gather as accurate information as possible on what’s happening in terms of acquisition and retention against everything else. 

Patch Linden, Senior Director of Product Operations, on why information
on the themed islands isn’t being generally announced

Also, once initial core testing with a specific themed island has finished, the Lab plan to add it to the broader Learning Island rotation. This allows a further level of comparison: does a themed Learning Island perform better with retention of users delivered to it outside of any related advertising campaign than is the case with non-themed islands, or does it not perform as well? Is there a difference? And so on.

Elements common to the “non-themed” learning islands can also be found in some of the themed islands, such as this guide to the SL viewer’s default toolbar buttons, again allowing for wider testing of approaches

One thing that struck me in talking to Keira, Brett and Patch about this programme is just what is going into user acquisition and attempts to improve user retention, when it is perhaps a little to easy to assume the Lab is just “tinkering without understanding”. Considerable thought is being put into trying to increase new user engagement and retention, and it does involve a lot of number crunching, analysis, and trying to build on what is shown to work, as well as trying entirely new approaches.

Overall, this themed approach to advertising / new user experience comes across as a good idea to try. Whether it actually works or not, and how well it works and with which themes, will only become clear over time; I do admit to being a little edgy around the Sci-Fi Island, which is very different in looks to the “hard sci-fi” images presented in the landing page – leading me to wonder if the contrast might have an impact on the new users who come through it.

But, concerns like that aside, it’s clear from talking to Brett, Keira and Patch that the Lab is pouring a lot of effort into this approach, as well as looking at other avenues of user acquisition and retention. Certainly, as this particular programme evolves I hope to be able to return to it in the future and offer updates and perhaps insights. In the meantime, I’d like to extend my thanks to Keira Linden, Patch Linden and Brett Linden for extending their time and input to this article.

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