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.

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New Social Islands helping new users get started in Second Life

The Experience Keys based Social Islands
The Experience Keys based Social Islands

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 initial HUD messages (click for full size)
The initial HUD messages (click for full size)

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.

The central pavilion in the new Social Islands includes information boards and - for those who have been involved in SL for a long time, the return of a familiar character from the days of the old Orientation Islands
The central pavilion in the new Social Islands includes information boards and – for those who have been involved in SL for a long time, the return of a familiar character from the days of the old Orientation Islands (right)

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.

The Advanced Camera Movement challenge
The Advanced Camera Movement challenge: use the camera control to move around the tower, touching and illuminating the red squares

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.

The new Social Islands include the same portal idea by which newcomers can continue their explorations of Second Life, but with some improvements over earlier versions
The new Social Islands include the same portal idea by which newcomers can continue their explorations of Second Life, but with some improvements over earlier versions

Continue reading “New Social Islands helping new users get started in Second Life”

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.

Examining Firestorm’s landing pages for Second Life

MadPea and Firestorm: working in collaboration to enhance the experience those new to Second life have with the platformUpdate #3, January 9th, 2016:  The testimonials on the landing pages have now been updated with genuine comments and images from Second Life users.

Update #2: I’ve further been informed that the testimonials are intended to the express the sentiments of SL users and are based upon feedback. expressed by SL users. Similarly, the images are in fact stock Internet images. A footnote to the effect that “The consumers above are not actual consumers of the advertised product.” has now been added to each of the landing pages.

Update #1: I’ve been informed by various third parties that the testimonials on the landing pages may not in fact be genuine. I’ve therefore revised this post until I hear further on this matter.

On Monday, December 28th, Friestorm announced the arrival of their Gateway landing pages, and asked Firestom users for their assistance in helping to spread the word about Second Life.

The Landing pages are an integral part of the Firestorm Gateway, which itself forms a part of the upcoming trail Gateways Programme I previewed back in September, and which hopefully will be officially announced as up and running by the Lab in the near future.

In all, six landing pages have been produced, each one of which is intended to showcase a specific aspect of using Second Life, and encourage those new to Second Life to sign-up and log in to the platform. To help with this, Firestorm is asking SL users to share those pages they feel their non-SL friends and contacts would find to be of the most interest and thus sign-up.  The six pages have the following topic descriptions:

While one might quibble over the subject titles (role-play and exploring might seem to exhibit a high degree of cross-over, for example), the pages themselves offer a crisp, clean approach to present Second Life, including endorsements from (and photos of) actual SL users.

Each of the pages includes a series of sign-up buttons which carry those interested to the initial phase of sign-up: creating an account – providing a user name, etc.

The sign-up form
The sign-up form using the Lab’s API

It’s probably worth pointing out here, and before the conspiracy theorists reach for their tin-foil hats,  that this sign-up process uses an API supplied by Linden Lab. This means that, just like all third-party TPVs, none of the gateways in the programme – Firestorm or anyone else – is storing or accessing the sign-up information a new user provides. The information is strictly between the user and the Lab. The only part of the sign-up information which can be accessed is the e-mail address: and that only for as long as it takes for an automated welcoming e-mail to be sent.

Providing the fields are correctly filled-out  – error messages will be displayed at the foot of the input fields, although you may have to use the vertical slider to bring them into view thanks to the API – clicking Get Started will move you on to the next page, intended to step the user through downloading, installing and launching the viewer.

The Firestorm instructions page
The Firestorm instructions page

To me, this page presents some issues which perhaps need to be dealt with if it is to be as effective as might be hoped – I’ll come back to this a little later.

One thing established SL users are bound to note is that nowhere is there any opportunity for the new user to select an avatar.

This isn’t an oversight on the part of the Firestorm team – it is a result of having to use the “old” user sign-up API, which doesn’t have any hooks into the Avatar Picker seen on the Lab’s own sign-up pages.  Thus, the first opportunity new users get to picker the gender of their avatar is after they have logged-in – and even then, they only initially get either the male or female default Character Test avatars which (a long while ago) replaced the infamous “Ruth”.

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
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 (click to enlarge, if required)

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 issue has already been raised with the Lab, so hopefully, something can be done about it,  either by providing the updated API with the avatar picker to those involved in the gateway programme, or by the Lab finding the means to present new users coming into SL via these gateways with at least one of the new “Classic” avatars instead of the Character Test versions.

Once they have selected their gender and have seen their avatar appear, the new user will find they’re starting at the start of the Firestorm’s orientation island, where they can start learning to use the viewer, before progressing on to finding out more about Second life in general through the various activities and events operating within the Firestorm gateway regions.

Given that new users are confronted with the Character Test avatars on first logging in (and allowing for the fact this will hopefully be changing), I did find myself wondering if a short lesson couldn’t be provided showing the new user how to access the Avatar Picker and quickly create an alternative look, just to reassure them that avatars in SL really don’t all look like they first see themselves.

The Firestorm Gateway incorporates their viewer orientation island and includes social areas for users
Once new users have progressed through the Firestorm landing / sign-up pages and have installed the viewer and logged-in with it, they’ll be delivered to the orientation island in the Firestorm gateway regions

Continue reading “Examining Firestorm’s landing pages for Second Life”

Firestorm ready to launch Gateway; MadPea join as partners

The Firestorm Gateway: partnering with MadPea Games
The Firestorm Gateway: partnering with MadPea Games

I recently covered the soon-to-be-launched Lab trail progamme which will see a new set of community gateways active within Second life and geared towards helping incoming new users get to grips with the platform more positively, and help them to start to engage in activities, thus hopefully improving the chances that they’ll “stick”.

The Firestorm team are one of the groups invited by the Lab to be a part of this new trial programme, and as I reported earlier in October, they will be launching their Gateway on Saturday, October 31st with a special party followed by a month-long Spooky Nights hunt which will take place across the five core regions of the Firestorm Gateway.

What I couldn’t reveal in that article, but am able to now, is that MadPea Games have agreed to partner with Firestorm to help get new users engaged in Second life.

madpea-logo
A number of MadPea games will be available in the Firestorm Gateway regions

In a press release on October 28th, MadPea confirm they are providing Firestorm with a number of their vintage games which income new users will be invited to play free-of-charge, in order to present them with even more opportunities to learn about and engage in Second life.

Commenting on the partnership, Kiana Writer, CEO and Queen Pea of MadPea Games says, “We are all very excited about the opportunity of working with Jessica and her team and waving the flag for what is achievable for user-created content on the grid. There’s a huge learning curve when you enter SL for the first time and we believe Firestorm, along with their partners, are best placed to help guide new users through that arc.”

Jessica Lyon, speaking for the Firestorm team, said: “We are super excited to announce that we’ve formed a mutually beneficial partnership with MadPea Productions! Essentially MadPea will install some of their older games as free play in our environments, and in exchange new residents will learn about MadPea Games to become potential new customers. MadPea will also then be able to send their new users to our installations to learn how to play MadPea games.”

The Firestorm Halloween Party stage area
The Firestorm Halloween Party stage area

The Firestorm Halloween Party will kick-off at 13:00 SLT with a series of live performances running through until 16:00, when things will switch over the DJs, and the Spooky Nights Halloween Hunt will launch.

Topping the bill for the party are:

  • 13:00 SLT – Mankind Tracer
  • 14:00 SLT – Nance Brody
  • 15:00 SLT – The Changhigh Trinity Sisters Fireshow
  • 14:00 SLT onwards – DJ Quad

Over 150 well-known Second Life merchants have contributed to the hunt, and you can read a list of participating creators on the Firestorm post on the party, and also catch photos of some of the prizes on offer.

Four landing points will be in operation for the party, as follows:

For further information on the party and the Firestorm Gateway, please refer to the Firestorm blog post, or to find out more on the Gateway and the new Gateway programme, please refer to the articles in this blog.

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