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Did Business Insider get it right?

August 2nd, 2014 by Marianne McCann

There’s been a lot of discussion about a recent Business Insider article on Second Life®. I also echo some of the views that the author of the piece got a few things wrong, including her graphics settings. There’s a lot I would pick at in this article, a lot I think is wrong. I don’t think the author really bridged from the premise of their headline into their walk through. I feel like they may have — whether they feel they did or not — set out with an agenda. The article itself reads like so many SL hit pieces, after all.

All that said, this article points to a lot of the troubles with the new user experience.

She complains about the “beginner world,” then about ending up in a Game of Thrones region where she was ignored. She then “glitched” and walked through a hill. I suspect this wasn’t a glitch, but just the typical bounding issue or some such — stuff that experienced SLers shrug off, but would be viewed as an error by a new user.

She also talks about her experience with a friend she met at Caledon Oxbridge. There was some discussion of nightclubs and dances, a trip to Abbotts Airfield for some skydiving in an old, prim skydive plane, some time in a sandbox, some clubbing, some pole dancing, and even discussion about a skinny-dipping event later that evening. The whole experience — if I were seeing Second Life for the first time — would seem dreadful. Why would I want to even bother with such a place?

Still, this is what it’s like for most first time SL users.

Should Business Insider had a top of the line gaming rig with all the bells and whistles? Certainly it would have helped the otherwise mediocre photos. Would that have been a true new user experience? No, I doubt it. Instead, we see a typical new user, shown from the standard camera position, with the graphics settings I’d not be surprised were the suggested settings for the system they downloaded Second Life on.

Their experience is probably not atypical of a first-time user. Indeed, I suspect they had a better than average first user experience, being guided directly by another avatar rather than signing off sometime between that first island and “glitching” through a wall at the Game of Thrones-ish space they discovered.

Nevertheless, I don’t think their guide showed them the best of Second Life, either. Abbotts, while a lovely legacy airport and a personal favorite, is not well traveled nowadays. If they wanted to check out an airfield, there are more populated ones out there, even ones that have built-in skydiving pads. But a flight may have been more exciting: look at that osprey taking off in the background!

They could have gone to some of the LEA art exhibitions. They could have gone to some of the Linden Department of Public Works created games. They could have gone to any number of Resident-created spaces that would have impressed them. Something far beyond a beachside bar that looks like it was built and textured in 2007, a dance store, or a pool adorned with a dance pole.

Yet I must ask: how different is this from the usual new user experience? More so, how can that experience be better? We can say that the reporter could have done a better job, could have had a better rig, and could have spent more time — but is their Second Life experience any better than what most see when they join?

Let me also put this video in the mix. Some of it — okay, a lot of it — might be not safe for work.

This too is a common new user experience. Yes, this fellow obviously is going to show you the most outrageous parts of his experience for the video — but can you not look at his time in the welcome areas and not nod, knowing that his experience is not that much different from what you might discover on your first login to Second Life today?

I guess what I want to say is this: let’s not shoot the messenger. Let’s look at this as a symptom of a troubled new user experience. This is a wake up call: we all can do a bit better. What should their experience have been?

UPDATE: I edited the above after it was pointed out that the mentor was not a member of the Caledon Oxbridge staff.

11 Responses to “Did Business Insider get it right?”

  1. Argonthedevil Ormega Says:

    From my own experience, I was lucky. I was introduced to SL by RL friends and thus had the advantage of knowing what to look for. I have a guess that the reason people stay in SL is because they come on in the same way for if you just land cold, it is a pretty overwhelming place. Dealing with lag effects alone can be pretty daunting and stuff that we sort of experienced folk with legacy names laugh at (and actually enjoy because it adds a level of surprise to things) can probably make a new person wonder why they are spending time with SL at all. (“The screen is shaking! Is this game wrecking my computer?” “No, it’s just some nut at the lab thought it would be fun to let people know the region was shutting down because someone got chewing gum in the servers again. Happens all the time.”)

    How to fix that? Well, don’t hassle the small stuff. Unless they have a machine that can run graphics at ultra they are not likely to tell the difference in textures between old and new. Hell, my puter sure can’t. They have no frame of reference on that in any event. A sort of mentoring system, as existed in legendary olden times, to guide the new person around might help and a simple survey asking what might interest them can’t hurt, assuming they have an idea what might interest them.
    In the end however, once they realize that in SL they will meet people whom they would never encounter in RL they will see the value of it. It is not the graphics, or the toys. It is the folks behind the avatars that make it interesting.

  2. Dee Darwin Says:

    Well thought out and written Mari.

    We all have read and seen a lot on SL with the majority of it negative. Most of the time I find that their motivation to do this escapes me. Okay so they don’t like, get, understand, have interest in or their computer platform leaves them wanting and their interest wanes fast. All this makes me wonder how they believe their negativity will be followed by people viewing or reading their one sided efforts.

    I gave up even bothering with reports on SL they have no influence on “My SL”.

    WOOOOOT!!!!

    ♥ Dee

  3. scarlett L Says:

    why would a mentor from caledon bother with showing the seedier side of sl altogether? that is one social grouping but there are soooo many that just that alone is kind of shady. Theres shopping groups, and actual vacation type travel groups that there are so many good things one wouldnt have to go right into “lets show off the crappy side of sl”

  4. Ravelli Ormstein Says:

    just to clarify:
    The guide mentioned in the article at Business Insider is not a Caledon Oxbridge faculty member.

  5. martini discovolante Says:

    Hi Marianne!
    The author’s mentor, Judy Brodie, was her own choice of guide, not a tutor or faculty member at Caledon Oxbridge.
    Our region is G-rated. The tutorial is self-guided and on SL basics, and our tutors are here for advice and questions. We do our very best to prepare new folks for the Second Life they choose, and after that they are free to explore on their own, or find their own Judy Brodie to act as limo driver.

  6. Lelani Carver Says:

    She was better off when she started at Caledon Oxbridge, it’s still possible to start a new person there via SLurl.

    A mentor from there would have given a much more diverting tour. It would have been nice if she’d been given a look at some LEA installations, or MadPea.

  7. Tali Says:

    The article is a bit ambiguous, but the “tour guide” mentioned is apparently somebody the writer already knew and arranged to meet, before even logging in to SL.
    It was purely coincidental that the writer happened to be in Oxbridge when the guide logged in.

    People are of course more than welcome to use Oxbridge; we’re only happy to help.
    And it should be said that even if you *do* speak to an Oxbridge tutor, you’ll still only get their personal recommendations; we do not have a list of “official Oxbridge-condoned landmarks”.
    To the best of my knowledge, though, you are indeed far more likely to be pointed towards something like LEA than to be taught how to pole-dance for tips :-)

    Personally, I like to highlight the indie music scene in SL.

  8. Lelani Carver Says:

    Caledon Oxbridge is still the best place to start a friend, if you give them the SLurl after they’ve signed up.

    A faculty member or group member there would have shown her some of Caledon’s best sights. It’s a shame she didn’t get to some of the good offerings in the Destination Guide. Expect she had “adult goggles” on.

  9. Marianne McCann Says:

    I updated the post to clarify that the guide was not a member of the Caledon Oxbridge staff, thanks to those who pointed that out to me.

    I will say, too, that knowing the guide was likely someone who was a friend of the write puts me in two minds. On one hand I really wonder about this friend and their biases, but on the other, one can usually have the best possible entry into Second Life (in my opinion) with the guiding hand of a friend within Second Life. This did not seem to be the best possible guide, however, and it shows.

  10. Tali Says:

    I see the Caledonians have piled on :-)
    So here are some more general thoughts about the wastelands of virtual worlds:

    I think the article shows a failure of the writer to grasp that SL is a platform. Even with what she knew, she still expected it to be a game which a single, experienced player could explain the “rules” for in a sitting.
    She never went looking for anything she was interested in herself, and didn’t consider getting a second input.
    If you don’t do that, putting some effort in yourself, SL will not be for you, however much somebody like Hamlet rails against the “you need to invest something to get something out” interpretation.
    On a tangent, I think this is the crux of why virtual worlds will never become truly mainstream. If you want entertainment a few clicks away, you go to YouTube, or pop into a game with a well-written quest line (or a “casual” game to kill some minutes). The investment required to get something out of a *platform* will simply never be a mainstream use.

    -And on an even further tangent, this is also a problem with Oculus. If SL (or SL2) ties itself too closely to Oculus (in perception, even if not in actual tech), it will be hammered *so far* into a niche that it will be years before it even has a chance to re-emerge. No matter how cool or fun or impressive Oculus is in a single sitting, flailing around with blinders on will never be a mainstream use of computers, and marketing SL as a place where you need to do that would be a very bad move.

  11. J. Carl Henderson (Carl Metropolitan in SL) Says:

    I’ve actually had new residents ask me how to pole dance for money. I explain the economics (in real life terms you are likely to make far less than you would at a minimum wage job), and suggest that unless they just enjoy the fantasy, they are probably better off finding other things to do. On the other hand, if that’s what they are in to, I will send them to the Zindra adult hub to get started.

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