As noted in an official blog post, Linden Lab has issued another set of new Starter avatars.
The eight new avatars are all of the “classic” type, using the basic Second Life system mesh, rather than dedicated mesh body parts (although they have mesh clothing items). Between them, they offer a mix of more “everyday” types – as the official blog post again notes, previous starter avatars heavy leaned more towards the fantasy side of things.
The eight characters are (in the order they appear in the Avatar Picker):
Bitsy (complexity 15,813) and Ashton (17,268): two twenty-somethings(?) with an up-and-coming urban air and style, complete with pet dogs.
Gretchen (complexity 29,332) and Leonard (10,656): two older characters in more formal wear.
Monty (complexity 19,016) and Trixie (14,732): two younger avatars with the look of teens or early twenties, Monty coming with an electric guitar.
Greg (complexity 10,733) and Monique (9,226): two possible ’70s throwbacks.
(Complexity figures include all attachments.)
All are, as per the Lab’s usual procedure, supplied with No Mod elements (although the shapes are Modify). Surprisingly, given recent additions to the starter avatars, no discernible AO are provided (although some have poses that are activated on wearing them), with Gretchen being the notable exception to this approach. This lack of AO leaves the avatars with the horrendous Duck Walk.
I also admit to being a little confused by the promo picture used for the avatars: it shows Ashton with his dog on a leash, but so far as I could tell, the only option supplied with the avatar is a “carry” version of the dog.
As starter avatars, these new looks are directly available to new users accessing the Second Life sign-up page on the web. Those already in-world can take them for a spin from the Me (/ Avatar) menu, and then selecting Choose Avatar. This will bring up the avatar picker (shown expanded, below), which will automatically default to the eight new avatar styles, then simply pick on the one you want to try.
Selecting an avatar will see it replace your current look (so if it’s a new look you’ve put together and haven’t saved – be sure to do so first!), and add the avatar to your Clothing folder. Or, if you prefer, you can open Inventory and navigate to Library > Clothing > Initial Outfits > then right-click on the relevant folder name and select Replace Current Outfit. This will also cause the look to be worn and copied to your own Clothing folder.
Having a broad choice of starter avatars is a good thing; I’m just a little surprised these come largely sans an AO; in this respect they seem a little at odds to previous classic and mesh starter avatar updates.
Linden Lab has deployed a new format sign-up process for those joining Second Life.
Using a simpler, more unified page design, the new sign-up process brings together the previously separate avatar picker and sign-up form into a single page, effectively reducing the number of individual steps a new user must take from initial sign-up through to downloading the viewer.
Picking a starter avatar is now a case of selecting one of two galleries from a drop-down menu in the left-hand panel in the initial page (shown below): Classic Avatars (the default) or Fantasy Avatars. Clicking the portrait of an avatar will display a full body animated thumbnail of the avatar, while personal information can be entered into the form on the right-hand panel.
The options for selecting Basic or Premium membership follow the same page format, although the Premium button takes a user to the more familiar Premium upgrade page, allowing them to choose their preferred payment option: monthly, quarterly or annual. The Basic option button will complete the sign-up process and allow present the download option for the viewer.
The new sign-up process also gave me the opportunity to try the latest iteration of the Learning Island new users are delivered to the first time they log-in to Second Life using the official viewer.
As I reported in 2015 and 2016, the Lab have been using experience keys to help guide new users in gaining familiarity with the basic movement controls in the viewer. The most recent version of the Learning Islands continues this approach, offering incoming new users a basic set of tasks – walking, jumping, flying – using the camera – they are asked to complete, before moving through a set of portals that deliver them to the Second Life Social Islands.
The new island design is a route through a series of broad halls built around a central terrace that might be suitable for socialising with other newcomers, and which is reached via a portal at the end of the final lesson (using the camera), and which contains the portal that delivers users to the Social Islands.
The lessons themselves and are indicated both on the HUD (seen in the image above) and via instruction tablets within the halls. Animated arrows (again seen in the image above) and on the floor help direct users around the halls.
Overall, the new sign-up process is a lot cleaner and – perhaps more importantly – a lot more modern-looking than the last iteration, which always felt cumbersome to me. It is concise enough to hopefully prevent a new user from bailing out before getting as far as downloading, installing and running the viewer.
Similarly, the updated Learning Island – which may well have been in use for a while, I’ve not been keeping an eye on the generic islands of late, only the themed islands, – offer a much more straightforward approach to getting started with the basics of the viewer. It might be argued that as this particular iteration doesn’t include information on inventory, Linden Dollars, etc., it might be a little too light on details; but keep in mind this may be one of a number of Learning Island variants the Lab might periodically rotate into use.
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.
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).
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
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 takeyou [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
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
“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.”
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?
“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!”
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.