The new front page for the Second Life Web-site has been somewhat contentious among some users of the service, even though they don't actually normally see it themselves. The bulk of the traditional style Web-page has been replaced with a black, sort of iPhoneish Flash-based series of capsule images that pop out when clicked on to reveal a short marketing blurb.
It all rather flies in the face of what we all know works well in good Web design -- or at least what we think we know. Often there's a huge gulf between theory and practice, and it's hard to tell when that gulf actually exists and where it might be.
Linden Lab has done a smart thing (and we're not talking about the design here, which we actually don't care for very much), and it is something well worth emulating. They tested the design in a series of empirical trials. Whatever you or I might think about the design and it's potential effectiveness, Linden Lab says they have the numbers to demonstrate that it performs better at achieving what they want than the original.
We're not sure exactly what the numbers and the success criteria actually are, mind. We asked Linden Lab when the trials commenced and were unable to get an answer. Nevertheless, whatever they were hoping to achieve apparently has been. You'd hardly expect the new page to be kept if the results weren't an improvement.
Assuming the success criteria adequately describe what they want to achieve, then this design actually works, whether or not we think it should be working. Katt Linden alludes to some of the tested metrics, which seem to be all the usual New User Experience metrics.
Encouragingly tests are set to continue to ensure that the new page continues to yield the results that Linden Lab wants to achieve.
Expertise is all very well (and quite often critical), but things that are particularly tied to society and sociology (like marketing and conversion) change over time, and empirical trial is the only way to determine if the old wisdom is still any good. Many marketing and user-experience firms are founded on the results of empirical trials that are as much as half a century out-of-date.
It's nice to see fresh measurements, even if we don't know quite what they're trying to achieve. At present the new site design is only visible to users who are not logged into the site.