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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Second Life land auctions get a face-lift

As promised in the Second Life roadmap blog post of March 2018, the land auction system has been revamped, and is now live – although only for Linden Lab held Mainland at this point in time.

The announcement came via a blog post, A Face lift for Auctions, on Wednesday, July 11th. As per that announcement, the new auction system leverages Second Life Place Pages as the medium for presenting land up for auction and for placing bids, together with a new “cover page” listing available parcels up for auction. which can be found at https://places.secondlife.com/auctions.

As per the official blog post, there are a few things to note with the new system:

  • Currently, it is for Linden-held land only – Mainland parcel owners will be able to add their own parcels for auction soon.
  • Auctions of group-owned land are not supported at present.
  • When bidding, you must have the funds available in your account – under the new system, your maximum bid amount is immediately taken out of your account and held in escrow until you are outbid, or win the auction.
  • Winning bidders will generally be notified within one hour of an auction closing.
The new Places/Auctions page. Clicking on the link for a parcel available for auction will initially display a brief summary of the parcel (bid end time and current leading bid amount) before taking you to the auction page for the parcel – click to enlarge, if required

To help people get started with the new system, the Lab have produced an Auctions Walkthrough document, together with an Auctions FAQ – both of which should be read by those interested in place their parcels up for auction (when the system is open for people to do so) or who wish to bid on the parcels currently being auctioned.

Those wishing to offer their own land for auction (when possible) and who are not familiar with using Second Life Place pages, may want to read through my Place Pages tutorial. I will be updating this tutorial to additionally include information on how to create your own parcel auctions in due course.

A parcel auction page – note the image on the right is a placeholder; those auctioning their land can include a photograph of it, taken from the parcel’s Place Page

 

Lab blogs Animesh RC deployment

Animesh will make it a lot easier to have animals roaming in Second Life (as well as other things) compared to current methods of achieving the same results

On Wednesday, June 20th,2018, The Lab completed an initial deployment of Animesh to the Blue Steel release candidate server channel.

For those not up-to-speed with Animesh, the goal of this project is to provide a means of animating rigged mesh objects using the avatar skeleton, in whole or in part, to provide things like independently moveable pets / creatures, and animated scenery features via scripted animation. It involves both viewer and server-side changes.

As noted in the official announcement, Animesh has been in development for some time, with the Lab working closely with the content creator community to develop Animesh, with weekly (more-or-less) meetings being held as a part of the Content Creation User Group (CCUG) meetings.

It is important to note that with this deployment, Animesh is still very much in development, and there may well be further changes before it is fully released.

Animesh Halloween boogie, October 2017. Courtesy of Alexa Linden

Those wishing to try Animesh need to note the following:

  • The server-side support for Animesh is currently only available on the BlueSteel RC regions.
    • Server support for Animesh involves adding a new message and some new LSL functions – see below.
    • If you try to run Animesh objects on a non-Animesh region, you will encounter problems: a) content won’t look right because the server won’t be sending you the appropriate messages; and b) you’ll get script errors because the region doesn’t like the new LSL calls.
  • The Animesh project viewer is required to see Animesh creations correctly. At the time of writing this was at version 5.1.6.516525, dated June 18th, 2018.
    • Animesh content will not render correctly in viewers without the necessary Animesh code.

As Animesh is still in development, and given the caveats noted above, content creators are asked not to start offering any products that are no-mod or such on the marketplace or in-world. Products should wait until at least the Animesh viewer has reached release candidate status – or even has been formally released.

Similarly, TPVs are – as usual when it comes the the Lab’s project viewers – encouraged not to adopt the Animesh viewer code for release purposes until it reaches release candidate status.

Animesh Resources

You can find further information on Animesh via the following resources.

Furthermore, I provide regular updates on the Animesh project via my Content Creation User Group updates, so you can keep up with Animesh development through these.

 

Linden Lab announces major SL private region pricing restructure

Isle of May; Inara Pey, March 2018, on FlickrPrivate region set-up fees and monthly tier rates will be reduced from July 2nd, 2018 – see below (region pictured: Isle of Mayblog post

Updated to include a quote from Ebbe Altberg

On Wednesday, June 20th, while speaking at the Meet the Lindens event, Linden Lab, and a a part of the SL15B celebrations, CEO Ebbe Altberg made a major announcement concerning private region maintenance fees (aka tier).

I’ve been saying for quite a while now that I think the balance between what it cost to have land versus what it costs to transact or buy and sell in the economy is a little off-kilter. Land is quite expensive but selling things in the world is quite cheap, comparatively speaking. So I a basically fell we have fairly high real estate taes but very low consumption tax. so we’re trying to adjust this so that it’s better. That was part of the Mainland price reduction, and today I can also announce we’re going to lower the cost of private estates!

Ebbe Altberg, Linden Lab CEO speaking at SL15B during his Meet The Lindens session.

As from July 2nd, 2018, private region tier will be reduced by 15% for full and Homestead regions. In addition, the one-time set-up fee applicable to Full and Homestead regions is being reduced.

This means that after July 2nd, 2018, private region set-up fees and monthly tier rate will be as follows:

New Private region pricing structure. Note that as from July 2nd, 2018, new OpenSpace regions will not longer be available as a product (see below for more). Table courtesy of Linden Lab. Remember set-up fees include the first month’s tier

There are some caveats to this restructuring:

  • Skill Gaming regions are not included in this restructuring.
  • This reduction does not include grandfathered  / “bought down” regions as they are already priced well below these new rates.
  • From July 2nd, the OpenSpace (“water”) class of region will no longer be offered as a product – however, existing OpenSpace regions already in use on the grid will continue to be supported, and will be subject to the tier discount.
  • Education/Nonprofit (EDU/NP) discounted full islands will be re-priced to maintain their 50% discount off the regularly priced full islands, with the new  tier rate of US $124.50 applying at the start of that island’s next invoiced billing term.

Linden Dollar Purchase Fee Increase

As noted above, Ebbe has previously indicated (see here for example), Linden Lab is attempting to re-balance how the company generates revenue through the Second Life platform to help reduce region tier pricing. This is being done by increases in fees charged elsewhere within the service.

Thus to help offset the revenue loss resulting from this reduction in private region fees, Ebbe also announced that the cost to buy Linden Dollars will be increasing to US $1.49 per transaction (compared to the current rate of US $0.99 cents per transaction).

Feedback

Over the last few years we’ve seen genuine efforts on the Lab’s part to try to ease the burden of tier for region holders.

  • In 2016, there was the region buy-down offer, which allowed private region holders to grandfather their regions for a one-time fee. This reduced the monthly cost of Full regions to US $195, and Homestead region to US $95.
    •   As noted above, these regions are excluded from the 15% tier-rate reduction.
  • In March of 2018, the Lab  reduced monthly mainland fees by 10%, while also doubling the amount of tier-free land available to Premium members (from 512 sq metres to 1024 sq metres).
  • (Note I’m excluding the 2011 Land Sale from this list, as it was a long time ago, and something of a different strategy compared to trying to lower tier costs.)

Both of these moves were very positively received by users, and given that requests to reduce tier have long been made, I’ve little doubt this announcement will be equally well-received.

One thing it should do is confirm the Lab is committed to trying to improve Second Life for users – not only in technical terms, but also in making the platform’s revenue generation something that is more evenly spread among all users.

Tyche’s tweet on the relative fall-off in region losses between 2018 and 2017

Even so, this is a bold move, and one that can only be taken to mean that recent moves to pivot some of the revenue generation away from land (e.g. through the transaction fee increases (March 2016, June 2017 and November 2017), possibly coupled with more recent uptake of premium user subscriptions, has given the Lab confidence that they can reasonably offset revenue loss from the tier reduction through other channels.

Certainly, it shows how far things have come since 2013, when it was hard to see any tier reduction not hurting the Lab’s bottom unless alternative revenue sources could be reliably built-up.

With Tyche Shepherd of Grid Survey fame reporting that the rate of decline in private regions continues to ease, it will be interesting to see how this announcement affects the overall interest among those wishing to acquire land of their own, either directly through the Lab or through any of the major land realtor operations in Second Life.

In the meantime, you can read the full text of the Lab’s announcement here.

My thanks to Xiola and Brett Linden for their assistance with this article.

 

Lab announces private estate holders can now restart their regions via the web

On Friday, June 8th, 2018, Linden Lab announced that estate / region holders can now restart their region directly from their Second Life dashboard at secondlife.com, via the My Estates page.

The option to be able to restart their regions remotely is a capability private estate and region owners have been requesting for some time, as the Lab acknowledge in their announcement:

We’ve been listening to the feedback from our Private Region owner community and we know that sometimes it’s impractical or even impossible to access your region in-world to perform the more traditional in-viewer region restart using the Region/Estate menu. With this new feature, Estate Owners can pro-actively select and restart their regions directly from the website without needing to log in-world and travel to each region individually.

Private estate holders can now restart their regions view their Second Life dashboard

When using the capability, estate / region owners should make note of the following, as stated in the Lab’s blog post:

Since we know that sometimes the reason a region cannot be accessed easily in-world is due to active griefing scenarios, we have also included the ability to restart the region in safe mode, in which the region will be brought back up with all the scripts, physics, and collisions disabled, making it possible to enter and remove any lingering item that may be causing issues. To see the new features available to you as a private Estate Owner, just log in to SecondLife.com and visit your Land Manager page.

Please refer to the Lab’s blog post for further information on this update.

Lab issues a further e-mail on EU GDPR and user privacy

On May 25th, 2018 the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force. While an EU regulation, the GDPR not only applies to organisations located within the EU but it will also apply to organisations located outside of the EU if they offer goods or services to, or monitor the behaviour of, EU data subjects.

Earlier in May, the Lab issued a blog post providing an initial outline of their compliance with the GDPR, which covers both Second Life and Sansar. In that post they promised they would provide further details on how EU citizens can exercise their rights under the GDPR. On May 24th, they issued an e-mail summarising updates to their Privacy Policy. The e-mail reads in full:

We value our relationship with our community and your privacy.  We have updated our Privacy Policy to increase transparency and comply with the European Union data protection law known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect on May 25, 2018. We encourage you to read our policies in full, but here are some highlights of what’s changed:

  • We provide additional details about the types of data that we collect, the ways in which we use it, and the measures we take to keep your data safe,
  • We added information about new choices and controls for users to manage their privacy, and
  • We added information about user’s rights regarding their privacy.

The updates to our policies will go into effect on May 25, 2018.  If you have questions, please contact us at privacy@lindenlab.com.

Thank you for being part of the Linden Lab community!

The Linden Lab Team

The specific sections of the Privacy Policy that have been updated are:

Obviously, you should read the privacy Policy in full, rather than just these sections. The above list is provided only as a guide.