Community Gateways in Second Life: Ajuda SL Brasil

Ajuda SL Brasil

As a community gateway, Ajuda SL Brasil (“Help SL Brazil”) has a long history. Original founded in 2009, it celebrated its ninth anniversary in May 2018, and primarily – but not exclusively – serves Portuguese speaking users. Located on a single region, the gateway has been through several different variations over the years, including a major make-over in 2011, and then acceptance into the new Community Gateway Programme beta in 2016, prior to becoming a full member of the Programme following its official relaunch.

“We are entirely self-funded as a non-profit group,” Roth Grut, the gateway’s founder,informed me. “Which, given the value of the real against the dollar, hasn’t been easy” (at the time of writing 1 BRL = 0.268 USD). He continued, “Since joining the new Community Gateway Programme, we’ve had a lot of practical support from Linden Lab in transforming our work into an official gateway programme partner.”

Ajuda SL Brasil

I can personally attest to the warmth of the greeting on arriving at Ajuda SL Brasil, with the team there both friendly and inviting, encouraging me to explore and find out more. They were also quick to guide genuine newbies to the learning centre and to help them refine  / customise their look.

The region itself is informally laid out in a design that works well in encouraging exploration. From the landing point on the south side, it’s a short, clearly marked route to the learning centrally located on the region. This presents a series of familiar self-learn lessons about the viewer and getting around in Second Life and essentials such as inventory use, etc. This area also features an auditorium, providing weekly lessons. In addition, there is an information broad displaying the Caledon Oxbridge two-week class schedule for SL-related lessons and events presented in English. Alongside this is a board offering information on other gateways and resident help groups.

Ajuda SL Brasil

Around the learning centre on the remaining three sides of the region sit, the aforementioned freebie centre, a sandbox where people can learn about building in prims and practice their skills, an events area for music and dancing, changing rooms, table-top games and various interactive elements – such as a “hydro-bike” for pedalling around on the water, a rezzing platform where people can learn to fly a helicopter. There are also some humorous little touches – such as a dollar bill innocently stuck on a manhole cover, inviting people to click on it – the result both demonstrates object / object interactions and how objects can be used to animate avatars.

“There is also a photo studio up in the sky,” Kon Magic, a gateway volunteer told me. Set out like a New York street scene, it offer people the opportunity to experiment with the viewer’s snapshot floater, using the provided poses or their own animations from inventory.

“We get an average of about 500 visitors a day,” Emma Floresby, another volunteer informed me. “Sometimes it might be 350 a day, others about 1,000.” I wondered how many of these were new arrivals as opposed to returning users.  “A lot of people come for the freebie store,” Emma told me candidly. “They account for some of the higher numbers.”

Emma continued, “While we are Brazilian and Portuguese based, we also cater for all languages, and get many non-Portuguese speakers. We try to provide a good place to welcome people and help them at basics, and also provide help and support to established users as well.”

Ajuda SL Brasil

Support is offered in a number of ways – in-world at the region itself (obviously!) and via the in-world group, Amigos Ajudam Group. There’s also the gateway’s supporting website,. This is a rich source of information for incoming new users: hints and tips, information on features and capabilities – such as Bento and mesh bodies / heads -, notes on viewers translations of SL documents such as the SL Terms and Conditions, can all be found, and those interested in joining the team can discover more about being a volunteer.

In particular, the website includes a link to a Portuguese-specific sign-up process, which will deliver incoming new users directly to the Ajuda region. While this is a capability offered to all the of the Community Gateway Programme partners, the language-specific nature of Ajuda SL Brazil’s approach helps maintain a contextual feel for incoming new users, starting in Portuguese and them delivering them (post viewer installation) to a Portuguese-speaking region.

Ajuda SL Brasil – new user sign-up

Now into its tenth year of operation, staffed by  dedicated, enthusiastic team and providing a service not just to one of SL’s larger ESL communities, but SL users in general, Ajuda SL Brasil continues to provide a valuable service to new and established users alike.

Related Links

Are you running a new Community Gateway? Want it featured in this series? Contact me in-world, or use the Contact Me form on this blog and drop me a line.

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Second Life Community Gateway Programme officially re-launched

In September 2015, I reported on the re-introduction, at least on a “beta” level of the Community Gateways,  a programme which had been discontinued in August 2010, with Linden  Lab citing several reasons for doing so, including issues around scalability and management oversight, together with question marks around the overall effectiveness of the programme.

Indications that the Lab were reconsidering the programme first surfaced at the “Meet the Lindens” events at SL12B, and following the hints, I was able to discuss the beta programme with Patch Linden in July 2015 while preparing that original piece.

Since that time, the beta Gateway Programme has been moving forward, and I’ve been able to visit a number – the London Gateway, Ayuda Virtual, catering to Spanish-speaking users, the Firestorm Gateway (touched upon in the article linked-to above, and Helping Haven, which formed the focus of its own report.

Helping Haven Gateway – one of the new Community Gateways which formed a part of the beta programme, 2015-2017

Somewhere in the region of 18 communities were involved in the beta Community Programme. However, the programme did have its share of hiccups along the way – such as with sorting through a registration process with would address both the Lab’s one legal requirements for data integrity and the needs of the Gateway operators themselves, some of which I documented in 2016.

All of the major hiccups have been addressed over the ensuing months, and the results of the beta programme appear to have been positive. I say this because on Wednesday, May 31st, 2017, Linden Lab announced that the new Community Gateway Programme is now officially open, with around 6-10 community-led gateways now operating in Second Life.

Part of the Firestorm Community Gateway, also a participant in the Community Gateway Beta Programme

In explaining the programme, the blog post offers an easy-to-grasp bullet point list of the what it is, and what it seeks to achieve:

This programme allows Second Life Communities to:

  • Create a new user experience and attract Residents to your specific community.
  • Assist those new Residents in beginning their journey into Second Life.
  • Lend a guiding hand in the creation of their new avatar personas.
  • Assist with increasing new user retention.

This powerful new tool will allow you to register new users right from your own community website and add them automatically to your group, thus helping your community to grow!

Part of the Ayuda Virtual Gateway

Communities within Second Life wishing to establish a Gateway of their own should refer to the new Community Gateway guidelines on the SL wiki. Requests to join the programme should then be made by filing a Support Case ticket under the Case Type Land & Region > Community Gateway Application.

Call To Gateway Operators

If you are a part of a group running a Community gateway, and would be interested in perhaps seeing it covered in this blog, please get in contact with me. You can do so via IM or (preferably) note card in-world, or via the Contact Form on this blog. Just include a brief outline of the gateway, its name and location and details of some of the coordinators behind it (if you’re not one yourself), together with preferred contact details, and I will get back to you. please refer to the Helping Haven article as a example of how such an article might look / read.

Community Gateways in Second Life: Helping Haven

Helping Haven Gateway
Helping Haven Gateway (click any image for full size)

The new Community Gateway programme was unofficially announced in September 2015. At the time, Pete and Patch Linden provided me with an overview of the programme, which involves a number of new user oriented groups and established communities across Second Life. More recently, I put out a call to those engaged in the programme to contact me about their work, with a view to presenting an unfolding series on the programme, starting with a look at those who responded to the call. For the first of these pieces I sat down with Aullere Ocello, owner of Helping Haven Gateway (HHG).

Those who have been around Second Life for a good few years and who had the good fortune to pass through Help People Island prior to its closure in 2011, might have an odd sense of deja-vu; if they drop into Helping Haven Gateway for the first time. There’s nothing accidental about this: the core team behind HHG are all Help People Island veterans, as Aullere explained to me.

Haven Haven Gateway provides a wide range of facilities and environments across, over and under the region for news to experience and enjoy - such as the forest walk, which provides a natural introduction to exploring regions in SL and interacting with in-world objects
Helping Haven Gateway provides a wide range of facilities and environments across, over and under the region for news to experience and enjoy – such as the forest walk, which provides a natural introduction to exploring regions in SL and interacting with in-world objects

“Notfragile [Aullere’s SL partner] and I ran HPI for the 4 years it was in SL. When it was forced to close, Notfragile, Lily, Charles and myself wanted to carry on. So we created Helping Haven, and for 6 years we were on a 1/4 sim, completely non-profit. A lot of the staff who came with us also started helping all over SL, which was amazing. And we boogied on through it, and made Helping Haven a well-known name by what we provide.”

The group were among the first of the existing community gateways to become involved in the new trail programme, back in around May 2015. “Brace Coral [Caledon Oxbridge University / New Citizens Inc] mentioned it to me, and then Patch invited myself and Lily Swindlehurst to a Gateway meeting,” Aullere said. “It was the beginning of a whole revisit to the programme. That went on for a couple of months, then things started falling into place. It’s taken a long time to reach this point!”

Even before Patch contacted them, the team had been looking at how they might once again expand their work to again encompass a full region and offer the broad range of support services they’d been able to give via HPI; so Patch’s approach was serendipitous. “It gave us the push we needed to take action,” Aullere said. “And when it came to building the region, I loved the HPI approach so much, and we knew it worked, so I modelled HHG on it while incorporating the lessons learned in running Helping Haven for four years on top of our HPI experience.”

Helping Haven Gateway's map to their ground-level facilities
Helping Haven Gateway’s map to their ground-level facilities (credit: Helping Haven Gateway)

The region itself is spilt into four areas (as shown above, looking across the region from the west side) at ground level, each area presenting multiple opportunities for learning, having fun and engaging with other users. The Gateway Entrance is the first point of contact with Helping Heaven for newly registered users, offering an initial introduction to learning the basics – walking, text chat, camera movement, media – presented in a familiar walk-through approach. From here, new arrivals are encouraged down into the plaza area.

One of the core ideas for the new Community Gateway Programme is the ability for those presenting a gateway to be able to bring new users directly into Second Life via their own web presence. While Helping Haven do indeed have their own website, delays on the Lab’s side in getting the new user registrations API fully up-and-running means that it isn’t currently being leveraged by HHG. So, how do they attract new registrants?

Helping Haven Gateway: the new user gateway provides newly-registered users with the esseentials of using the viewer as they progress through a garden to the rest of the region
Helping Haven Gateway: the new user gateway provides newly registered users with the essentials of using the viewer as they progress through a garden to the rest of the region

“The Lab direct incoming new users to the Gateways,” Aullere informed me. “So we get people from the main Orientation areas, plus they’ve put a number of the gateways in the Social Island portals. Also, some of our helpers go to the Social Islands as well to help direct new users to us.”

I wondered how this approach was faring. “It fluctuates daily. We keep a close eye on traffic; certain times of the day, we’re downright packed!” Aullere said, before indicating the gentle flow of people into and out of the region and adding, “At others it is like this, calmer!”

Helping Haven Gateway: some of the ground-level activity areas
Helping Haven Gateway: some of the ground-level activity areas, complete with lesson boards

Once new users reach the plaza, they are free to wander. Volunteers are on hand to provide assistance, and while there is a main Tutorial Walk on the north side, which continues the lessons from the Gateway Entrance, so too are many of the tutorial boards repeated across the plaza and the rest of the region. This might appear to be a little redundant, but it actually serves a two-fold purpose.

Continue reading “Community Gateways in Second Life: Helping Haven”

A call to Community Gateways

The Lab have been re-working their own new user experience with new Social Islands - but there is also the new Community Gateway programme - and I'd like to offer more reports on what groups and communities involved in it are doing
The Lab have been re-working their own new user experience with new Social Islands – but there is also the new Community Gateway programme – and I’d like to offer more reports on what groups and communities involved in it are doing

As some residents are aware, Linden Lab has been working on a new pilot programme for Community Gateways – see my original article from September 2015 for background on this, and I’ve reported on some of the issues which have delayed a formal announcement of the programme.

In doing so, I have reported on the work of the Firestorm team with their Gateway, and in October 2015, I offered to report on the efforts of other groups and communities involved in the programme. However, as that call was buried at the foot of an article, it may not have been seen, so I’d like to repeat it here, and ask that people spread the word.

I've previously covered the Firestorm Community Gateway, and continue to do so - why not yours as well?
I’ve been covering the Firestorm Gateway since my original article on the new Gateway Programme previously covered the Firestorm Community Gateway, and continue to do so – why not yours as well?

If you are a part of a group, or know of a group actively engaged in running a community gateway which would like to gain further promotion to Second Life residents about what you’re doing, your thoughts on the programme, how you’ve approached things, and so on, please get in contact with me, I’d be happy to cover your work.

You can do so via IM or (preferably) note card in-world, or via the Contact Form on this blog. Just include a brief outline of the gateway, its name and location and details of some of the coordinators behind it (if you’re not one yourself), together with preferred contact details, and I will get back to you.

Related Links

Gateway programme API update

secondlifeNote: 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.

The default Character Test Avatar, as used by the "old" new user registration API
The default Character Test Avatar, as used by the “old” new user registration API

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).

The new user sign-up process for the gateway programme currently in QA with the Lab, should present users coming into Second Life via a third-party gateway with a relatively transparent process which allows the Lab to meet its legal requirements on account information privacy. (Note: this diagram is for illustrative purposes only, and based on how the process has been explained during a meeting [42:35]. The number of steps involved in the process may differ in practice)
The new user sign-up process for the gateway programme currently in QA with the Lab, should present users coming into Second Life via a third-party gateway with a relatively transparent process which allows the Lab to meet its legal requirements on account information privacy. (Note: this diagram is for illustrative purposes only, and based on how the process has been explained during a meeting [42:35]. With the exception of the information handled by the Lab’s service, the number of steps involved in the process may differ in practice)
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”.

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.