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A few steps of my own

July 29th, 2010 by Marianne McCann

So in an article by Wagner James Au, known as Hamlet Au in-world, or to oldbies, the former Hamlet Linden, he offers seven “easy steps” for saving second life. the piece caused quite a bit of reaction on Twitter, mostly because Second Life happened to be down at the time it hit the wire. No better way to get attention from SLers!

For fun, I decided to take a look at these suggestions, and offer a few more thoughts.

First off, “Save Second Life?” I think that’s a bit of a reach, title-wise. Is Second Life in need of “saving,” and do Hamlet’s suggestions do the job? I don’t think either is quite right. If anything, most of his suggestions — some of this he’s advocated for months — would only build on the established platform without fixing some key issues that rate quite a bit higher than “point and click movement” or “prepaid cards.”

Most controversial of his suggestions, and one he’s wanted for a long time, is an achievement or leveling system in SL. First off, we’ve had that. It did not work well. The leader boards were horribly gamed, then dramatically altered before finally dying off. The most recent failed attempt at anything remotely resembling such a thing — the Resident Choice Award — proved to be a rather embarrassing failure.

It’s not that the idea doesn’t have some merit. There have been many Resident attempts to implement their own systems, which indicates an interest. One could even call “Bloodlines” an achievement system, or perhaps Ozimal bunnies, Sion chickns, etc.

For that matter, the Orientation experience before the current one — the one where you had to dance the hula, drive the car, etc — was its own closed achievement system, “requiring” you to finish all the steps before entering the world at large. Perhaps as a result, I doubt you’ll find many who look back on that Orientation Island with much love.

Indeed, I think that the achievement/leveling idea isn’t necessarily the best fit in Second Life. Will I be be to earn the “Prim Rezzing Badge” or some of categories like those humorously suggested by Kanomi Blake? To what end? How does this improve my Second Life experience?

All that said, some of Hamlet’s suggestions do hold water, even if some don’t quite cover the whole story. Consider his suggestion for improving text chat. For some time, I’ve felt that Linden Lab was — deliberately or otherwise — making it harder to text chat. The biggest example is the size of the text entry field in Viewer 2, which is little larger than a search field.

Yet for years now we’ve known the group and friends system was painfully unscalable. Group chat is always unreliable, and lacks a lot of features that would bring it up to speed. In my opinion, improving and modernizing this system is about the most important thing Linden Lab can do to improve Second Life. Groups could use a lot more useful features, and we need a higher group limit.

Heck, give me a higher group limit as a premium feature. You can get the Linden Home, thanks.

Hamlet also asks for an “In World Now” display. This reminds me of the old Second Life webpage when I started, where you could see the map and places of note marked on it. I like this idea by and large.

One of the biggest issues, perception-wise, has been that Second Life is empty. Once you get past the welcome areas (an issue all their own), you are pretty much on your own to find others. So yes, tell me where others are. More than this, tell me where others with a like mind are. Much like the marketplace wanting to tell me where the vampires and goths are (I can dream for a kid category, no?), tell me where they are inworld. Help new furs find the Luskwood, or help direct the steampunks towards New Babbage. The destination guide doesn’t seem to be doing it, you know?

But more than this, bring more of this INTO the world. Give me information there. Not just the mission critical stuff like I suggested on the JIRA, but devise a way to tell me (without me having to search) about events inworld. Allow me to metafilter this to items just for my community or interest. Stop sending me out to the website, Avatars United, or even Facebook to get information I should be getting without leaving Second Life. Ultimately, you want to keep my eyes inworld.

By the way, this is the big folly with XStreet/Second Life Marketplace. IMO, the Marketplace competes directly with Linden Lab’s biggest market: the buying and selling of virtual land. If the marketplace is wildly popular, we can all close down our stores and by 16m parcels to store our magic boxes. Then all those servers will be sitting out there burning power and dollars (US$, not L$) with no one using them. This doesn’t pay the lab’s bills. We’ll be the prettiest avatars that no longer exist.

Mari Was Here

Now here’s a couple things I think Second Life could use that were not on Hamlet’s list:

When I had my First Life birthday the other day, I got several automated notices wishing me the best. Likewise, on systems like Plurk, it announced to my friends that it was my special day. But when one has a birthday or rezday in Second Life, there is nothing.

It would seem trivial to set up a system that automatically sends a “thanks for being with us this year” message on a person’s rez day. It might even be possible to have an automated system that offers a person some tchotchke come rez day, or even adds a specific rezday “character” to their name tag.

Or — and now I get frightfully close to that achievement system I panned — you could apply similar things to an avatars 100th, 500th, 1000th, etc day inworld.

This should be easy to do even simple, and I think would actually have a positive effect. Which leads to…

This has always been an Achilles’ heel of Linden Lab. They do listen, but it doesn’t tend to go far. They communicate by talking at us, then don’t seem to understand why people get upset.

As I said in another recent post, the Residents are the best possible evangelists. We can also be the company’s worst nightmare. the key here is involving us.

Communicate openly. Talk with us, and assume that some of us might have ideas to share. @workinginworld on Twitter is, IMO, one of the stellar examples of a Linden Lab employee doing communication right. Rather than just mindlessly Re-tweeting Hamlet’s post, she turned it into a conversation. She read the replies. she responded to them, even hinted at places where Linden Lab was considering courses of action. This is how you do it.

Don’t go dark when we need information — we may assume that no news really is no news and find other places to play. Some of the biggest stumbles have been when people perceive a core shift at the lab that may have been in the pipeline for some time — but confidential. It leaves them blindsided and non-trusting. This is bad.

To borrow a somewhat smarmy statement: help us help you.

Eat your own dog food
Use your product. Every time Jack Linden has to fly into SF, you are not using your product. Every time a contest is run through Facebook, you are not using your product. This is simple stuff: lead by example.

Enhance the product
A no brainer. I touched on it with the improvements to chat , etc.

While doing that, give me a better inventory system. Make so I can see my full inventory every time I log in, rather than once in a blue moon. Let me make custom groups of items that can have their own tab, or even be top level folders.

Unlike most, I like Viewer 2, but I know it could be made that much better. For one, let me tear off profiles, group panes, the destination guide, and other windows as easily as I can only a new inventory window.

And let’s look at land, shall we. Let’s improve the beauty of it all. Find some way to enhance those old Linden Trees and plants, rather than continually depreciating them. Allow me to “paint” my ground textures on a private estate, and give me more control over same.

Likewise, allow me better access tools for my parcels, including the ability to make an access list of individuals who can res or run scripts beyond just a group role. You don’t even need to lower the price on tier, but make it more of a “value” to your users.

Bring back the fun
Do what you can to enhance the overall fun of Second Life. The LDPW did a great job of enhancing what is here, and providing good, fun, entertaining places for users.

but we’ve lost much of the community team that worked on special events, as well as helping to promote Resident events. You have scores of people griefing infohubs and crying about how bored they are. Give them something to do or, barring that, send them to Residents who will give them a fun time.

Anyway, I went long yet again, and I’m sure others have plenty more to add to this, so I’ll stop here. Food for thought, I hope!

3 Responses to “A few steps of my own”

  1. Cubey Says:

    About the idea of leveling, we already have that in a way: account age. That’s one metric that can’t be gamed. :)

    And in a less quantifiable sense, one’s reputation and accomplishments, just like in real life, are a way of leveling up. Sure, you can’t put numbers to how much one has built or contributed, but word of mouth reputation goes a long way in SL.

  2. Marianne McCann Says:

    VERY good point. I’m much more keen on one’s reputation over what “badge” they earned.

  3. Nat Merit Says:

    Account age doesn’t show how long you’ve been active in world, before I discovered the child avatar community I’d used my 2006 account all of three times before 2009. So if it’s an achievement for me, it’s just showing how good I am at remembering my old passwords :)

    Personally I think LL needs to focus on making the Second Life experience as good as possible for those of us who are already in world and bought into what they’re offering. SL’s strength is its communities and user created content. Make the world stable for our events and creations, make it so we can talk to each other reliably, make it so we can find each other and what’s going on. Get SL as good as it can be for the current users before trying to add new bells and whistles to bring in new users. In fact I think ‘Back to Basics’ is a good direction to be taking.

    Once the existing communities are happy and thriving and new users can find those communities, you won’t need an achievements system to engage people, they can see what the point of Second Life is when they’re in vibrant places with strong community and people around to welcome them.

    Rather than building better orientation areas and achievement systems, LL should just be helping people find the communities that are out there and letting *them* handle the first hour experience. We’re a user created world, why not trust the users to welcome others and mentor them into their communities? The best first hour, first day or first week experience is meeting someone willing to help you get up to speed.

    And if you’re there to RP a vampire, you’re straight into that from the start, if you want to RP Avatar, you’re with Na’vi straight off, if you’re a steampunk, a furry, Gorean, a tiny, a kid, you go straight to them.

    So in short, the Lab should get Second Life as it is working brilliantly for the users it already has, partner with existing strong communities to list their welcome areas, then let those users welcome and mentor like-minded others. LL should just get the platform working, then work on promoting what’s already here.

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