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Posted: May 15th 2010 1:04PM halfcaptain said

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man, that virtual whirl graphic is really starting to crack me up

Posted: May 15th 2010 1:29PM (Unverified) said

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New user retention is currently the big obsession at the Lab. It is more important than grid performance, customer service or technological improvements (although those departments still move forward). The Second Life 2 viewer is the most obvious evidence of this, and to be honest, for all it's flaws the intention is right.
The viewer *is* Second Life to the newbie. In my opinion there should be a declared Newbie Viewer, few features, very easy to use. This could make it easy to learn the basics and practice them in world. It should also work well on minimally compatible hardware.
Beyond the Newbie Viewer users could move up to a (fixed) SL2 viewer and then on to a viewer on the level of Emerald.
My main point is that I see no one at the Lab who is capable of seeing the basics, they are too immersed in the marvelous capabilities and features to strip any away and just give the basics.
That this is a Process needs to be clear from the start with frequent reminders, especially in the newbie viewer, that it is possible to move up to a viewer with more features.

Posted: May 16th 2010 9:17PM (Unverified) said

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I'm not sure that "retention" is the focus currently. I asked Amanda on the subject directly recently, and she replied in terms of LL looking to increase the numbers of "actives" - that is, as Tateru points out, people who log into SL for more than 1 hour a month. Amanda indicated that LL are looking to increase this figure to around 700K / 1 million per month (some might argue that if the daily peak of 45-70K is to be believed, we'r pretty much on top of this target as it is, but that's another discussion).

But, as Tateru intimates, "actives" is NOT the same of "retained users". You can hit the 700K+ monthly figure easily enough just through having people logging in for an hour a month - and never returning - or for a couple of hours a month before they give up.

Amanda is not alone in pumping the idea of "actives" as metric either. Tom (T Linden) Hale has done much the same in responding to posts in the official forums and elsewhere; simply pointing to the count of "actives"...

Personally, I *would* like to see more onus on user retention. It is through user *retention* that the economy and user-to-user trading is going to grow, rather than a simple increase is one-hour-a-month "actives" (which is again the thrust of Amanda's response to my questions.

Inara Pey
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Posted: May 15th 2010 4:35PM (Unverified) said

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Well, what are the basics? A lot of people stayed because they discovered the ability to build. Strip that away, and a lot of people won't get the idea that they, indeed, can create this world, too. Seriously, I don't like the 'Second Life Light' approach at all. A lot of applications do have some very very advanced and complicated capabilities, and are still easy to use.

I believe it's rather a matter of organizing the viewer functions. The good people at Imprudence are doing a nice job at re-sorting them already, and I've seen a lot of great ideas coming that way. Personally, I believe, things don't have to be organized in 'bundles', like the menu bar, or the preference tabs. A lot of the things hidden there can be implemented into the event where they're needed. For example: Why not make the whole 'tools' menu a part of the building screen, only visible when you're building. Or the world menu part of the pie menu.

Viewer 2 stripped away all the 'complicated' stuff in order to lower the threshold at comprehending the UI, but that way, the 'complicated' stuff just got more complicated and harder to find. And sooner or later, we all need that complicated stuff. If only to move our hair to the right position.

I think the idea was to show the newbies what SL is about. But instead of showing them what SL is about, they showed them what SL is about for LL. You can shop, you can make friends, you can customize your avatar. That might appeal to a few, but it obviously isn't enough of an appeal to really break grounds, otherwise google lively would've survived.

What SL is about, is so vast, so complex, and actually so unknown to us, that I don't think it's good to simplify it in any way. It'll flatten the 'experience' for all. I don't know how to make it easier for those 95% dropouts. There was a time when I would've said 'so what' - it obviously wasn't for them. But then, there certainly are things that can be improved to give new people an easier approach to SL. Just that 'browser-like' interface, and shopping mall right at the entrance is not it. As much as I understand the idea behind that, it simply doesn't suit Second Life, as it is NOT a browsing experience, nor is it all about shopping. (I haven't been shopping in months.)

I remember, when I joined, the thing I was looking for was a manual. Just something to explain the UI to me. I wouldn't have minded if it would've been long to read, if it would just have explained it good. Sadly, there was none, just that HUD which was supposed to guide you, but was broken for me, and thus just irritated me. (It took me a while to find out how to remove it.) I would've loved getting a good documentation back then. Later, they replaced the hud with a small help screen that showed you the basics of movement and camera control. I didn't like that, because it made SL look simpler than it is, leaving people alone at the very point where they really need help. Needless to say, the current welcome island is even worse.

LL leaves a lot of this help in the hands of residents - mentor groups, wiki writers, etc. But frankly - we pay them, so why don't they do their job and work at this for us? It seems to me, that as the company grew, the things they did for the residents actually got less and less. I don't know what's behind all that, I just know that if anyone cares about these 95%, they better care about them personally.

Posted: May 15th 2010 5:19PM (Unverified) said

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I'm trying to figure out why LL killed the mentor program, then? I, and many others I would see regularly, used to hang out on the birthing areas for exactly this reason, trying to get people over that first hour hump. I guess that was too simple a solution.

Posted: May 15th 2010 5:45PM (Unverified) said

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That's what I meant with taking care of it personally. If LL, as a company, wants to enhance the 'new user experience', then dropping the mentor program in favour of a shiny new welcome island and a new viewer is simply not enough.

Posted: May 15th 2010 11:45PM (Unverified) said

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Vanish, I did not intend to say that all of the features of SL that we all enjoy would not be needed, but newbies need more than half an hour on newbie island(s) to get the basics down. Give them a viewer with which they can get around, that is fast and accessible to all. They will soon discover that there is more to SL than shopping, making friends and sex and will move up to a full featured viewer, but by then, hopefully, they are hooked :)

Posted: May 16th 2010 10:41AM (Unverified) said

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I know you didn't say that, Shug. But how will a newbie find out there is 'more to it than this'? If they've got problems getting past the initial stages, I don't think they'll bother looking at forums or blogs for functions they don't even have a hint exist. As Tateru wrote, it's a conceptual hump, not a technical one. New users will need to get their head around to what Second Life is, or can be, for them. And only showing half of what there is won't help.

Posted: May 16th 2010 11:01PM (Unverified) said

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Although I'm all for a better viewer UI, I do not believe that's the most important issue with new people and SL.

Look, no matter what, some parts of SL are going to retain a learning curve. It wouldn't *be* SL otherwise. Take the avatar for example. Even if you point people immediately to a massive shop full of every shape, skin, hairstyle, and outfit they could ever want, they will still have to know how to do several tasks to wear them properly (especially if anything is delivered to them in a box.) And LL has really done a pretty good job at providing fairly simple tools to customize an AV yourself. Imagine having to purchase 3DS Max or Maya to create one. Or braving Blender's really obtuse interface.

My point is, SL is something between a foreign country and an alien planet. It's like one of us being plucked from our familiar surroundings and being dropped right in the middle of Planet Squizeebo, feeling nearly naked and wondering what the heck all those squiggly things do. You're a little afraid to touch things, because you can't be really sure what might happen, or who's attention you will draw. There's some helpful signs about, and you figure out that you can search for things. Unfortunately, you're flooded with options there. You have no real idea which place to go to first, and your first few choices seem to want nothing more than to sell you stuff. You have no idea if 200L is an appropriate price to pay for those jeans, or whether those jeans are really neato or just crap.

So many choices! So many decisions to make! You thought this was just gonna be a nifty social game. You just wanted to meet cool people. You wanted to *be* one of the cool people.

You know, there's a sub-text to a lot of what LL says about SL these days. Throw enough money at outfits, homes, and toys, and you'll live happily ever after as one of the cool people. It just does not work like that. There's always an element of real life in SL, no matter how far-out of a fantasy you try to live in it, and that is that real life is often hard.

I guess I was double-lucky when I joined. I was both patient enough to figure stuff out for myself, and met very kind and helpful people, some of which I've now known for years. It helped a lot that my expectations were in line with what I found in SL. SL is a bit ironic though... it really is one of the few online services that can almost be all things to all people. It's just that not all people are for SL.

P.S. Part of me wants to title this post, "Why I don't work for the LL Marketing Dept." :)

Posted: May 16th 2010 11:21PM (Unverified) said

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What happened to that orientation island, with the stone paths in the hills, the kissing parrot, the ball on the table, the message behind sign etc ? Was it worse than the other stuff?

Posted: May 17th 2010 1:39PM (Unverified) said

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As a metaverse developer, I admit to the slipperiness of the term 'immersion' - but not to such a degree that I feel comfortable referring to Facebook as an 'immersive platform.' (At least, not unless we're in the kind of '50,000-foot-view' theological discussion where it's permissible to refer to Facebook as a 'virtual world,' too).

The strength of Facebook as a tool for acquisition and retention is pretty obvious. The service _started_ as a photo-cruising site to help on-campus youth find friends, fit in, and hook up -- very compelling app if you're all alone in Freshman dorm. In its present iteration, it's a site that gains new registrants when existing users reach out to friends, colleagues and family and drag them in, and it retains new members in perpetuity, because -- there being no downside to lurking -- nobody ever bothers to quit. The stats, meanwhile (from people like Ovum and similar) suggest that a regular user of Facebook spends between 4 and 5 hours per month 'using the site,' which (based on my own experience of Facebook) probably means they log in daily, skim the event-stream, vote thumbs-up on a friend's baby pictures, comments snarkily on someone's change of status, and then leaves the page up in the background until they close the browser for lunch. I'm not sure this constitutes a socioeconomic and cultural revolution. It _is_, however, an interesting exploration of how the 'exclave' model facilitates immigration -- the Facebook you join is "the Facebook where your friends are," not a foreign country filled with odd customs and blank-eyed natives speaking in gibberish.

Second Life should look at this. If you want to grow and retain organic population, 1) Make everything you do visible on the web at large, and 2) empower people to reach out to friends and colleagues, drag them in, and then bury them in pings and messages encouraging repeated use. This is something that -- for all the will in the world -- Second Life has always been _terrible_ at, with its non-real-world-named avatars and registration/orientation model and content model and majority-transient population. If you think about it, if Person A joins Second Life, and is one of the 'lucky few' who get it, and become a repeat user -- how would their friends find them? Or, actually, much more important since we're talking about a realtime system: how would their friends find them RIGHT NOW? I suspect that if LL were to create good, solid, robust ways of filling-in that information chain, we'd be further along.

Posted: May 17th 2010 2:45PM (Unverified) said

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Discussion of this article going on in the Second Life Forums:

http://blogs.secondlife.com/message/218136

Posted: May 18th 2010 1:45AM (Unverified) said

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John, your post assumes ppl want our RL friends to "find them". For probably 50% of SL residents this is a fantasy world. While they encourage their RL friends to join SL, they have no great wish to be found.

Posted: May 18th 2010 7:44AM (Unverified) said

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Facebook is "immersive"? I guess I really don't get it. Facebook to me seems like a cluttered, badly-threaded forum that doesn't give anyone enough space to say anything interesting. I am friends with a number of bright and interesting people, and Facebook's structure encourages them to sound and look like idiots (much like SL does, in fact).

Posted: May 18th 2010 3:49PM (Unverified) said

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Tateru, thank you for the reality check on how difficult the first hour *is* in SL.

I appreciate your honest look at the numbers. There are simply too many cheerleaders for "mass adoption" of SL who have, I reckon, forgotten how non-intuitive the UI can be and how daunting it is to find a "tribe" in SL's big crazy old fake world.

@Marcus, you are gifted with words:

"My point is, SL is something between a foreign country and an alien planet. It's like one of us being plucked from our familiar surroundings and being dropped right in the middle of Planet Squizeebo, feeling nearly naked and wondering what the heck all those squiggly things do."

Given that I am a freak, that's the sort of crazy experience I enjoy, squigglies and all. So I stuck around to see the other freaks. I even learned a few things along the way.

Marcus also said, "You know, there's a sub-text to a lot of what LL says about SL these days. Throw enough money at outfits, homes, and toys, and you'll live happily ever after as one of the cool people. It just does not work like that."

Exactly, lad! The subtext is that LL is chasing suburban lifestylers. I hope *those* noobs can figure out the UI and find their peers.

LL's current marketing shows why there are no rusty Steampunk robots, tinies, furries, walking ham-hocks, Brides of Frankenstein, PhDs in ape suits, or virtual hillbillies in the LL adverts. A tiny and a robot make token appearances at the end of the meet/shop/play/cyber (I mean "love") video that LL runs.

5% retention. That's pitiful. I'll stop using my 10% figure now :(

Posted: May 19th 2010 2:46PM (Unverified) said

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Nice overview of the challenge before us. There are some of us attempting to address the issue. I completed a PhD on research conducted on the experience of educators when entering the virtual environment of Second life, and have used that research to develop an entry process that now has about 93% retention after three years. Of course retention isn't the entire thing at all...but more exciting is that most of those staying around are actually doing some creative and useful things for education and training.

The challenges aren't just that the virtual worlds are so broad and unfocused, but also the fact that everyone who comes to a v-world brings their own unique wants, interests, demands, etc. So trying to design a sticky orientation that fits all comers is a huge (probably impossible) task. Out of the several hundreds of folks we have helped enter SL, each one brought their unique expectations.

I've found that a key element is the emotional connection. If the newcomer finds or brings a personal and emotional reason for being there, the chances of sticking around long enough to "get it" are much higher. Those coming in because they are told to...or because the feel they "must"...are less likely to find that lasting connection.

I am currently working with groups of educators and others in small groups or learning communities that are designed to create an experience through which that personal/emotional connection might be made. So far, so good.

Thanks for raising the issue...

John Jamison/Virtual Bacon

Posted: May 19th 2010 11:03PM (Unverified) said

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Why I came to SL in the first place:

I'm not entirely happy with my current RL appearance. It doesn't fit "emotionally" with my self image of who and what I really feel I am. Now, I'm not a furry or anything exotic, but I do have an opinion of what I want to look like, and some of it is not easily in my grasp for the real world me (we are talking some serious bone positioning modification to some parts of my body, but nothing that would end up making me look abnormal, just stuff that is beyond simply loosing weight/fat here and adding better muscle tone there, etc). I kind of wanted a cartoon of me, but not exactly. I can draw, but I'm way better at drawing mechanical things than "organic" things, due to lack of practice.

I had tried other "avatar" making programs, such as Yahoo Avatars, to come up with a static image of my self to use in the then new-to-me social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and other places where I wanted to socialize but still have some anonymity when I was first trying them out, and still only had a couple of friends. Yahoo and the other "Avatar" creation tools I tried only allowed you to use a small and corporately established group of "parts" to assemble "you" and many were tied to "sponsors" like croak-a-cola, neye-key and other "entities" with money and a desire for you to "conform" to your Unique-Image-Within-Our-Brand... Not enough flexibility to get to the real "me" I wanted to see, and I could not add the missing parts because their parts were just not quite right...

So I heard about this place called Second Life which allowed you to actually trade or buy parts with other users or (once you got good enough) even "Make" your own parts for your avatar and your environment. I got over the hump because I wanted to create a better "me" or to come as close to my in-my-head-concept-of-me as I could. Once I could maneuver these actions and transactions, I was hooked and am pretty happy with several versions of me I've managed to cobble, assemble and create.

But I came with a very specific goal. Now I only wish I had the time (or the income) to support all of the new projects I want to create there now that I know some of the how, even if just for myself, though I'm happy to share.

I definitely think some sort of a manual on basic use, with a paragraph or section or two about what SL is and currently is not would be good. It should definitely leave the imagination open and say these are just some of the ways it has been used and people are always coming up with new ways to use it for all sorts of things, and it should have some encouragement to think about being creative as you start out. It definitely should help the new user set themselves a 1st goal for either their avatars looks or an object and that would do wonders to start folks down the path sooner and get them hooked.

Posted: May 24th 2010 9:03AM (Unverified) said

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The biggest problem I see with the new orientation islands is that, in what is billed as a social networking group, there is no social networking for new users. As a new user, you're expected to wander around alone in the presence of other new users. Both times I've created alts and ended up on orientation island, I've been asked by newbies how to get out. Do they know how to move? no. Do they know how to scan the camera? no. They don't know how to do anything that orientation island is set up to teach them to do, yet they're desperate to leave and go find people to talk to and things to do.

Newbies should be able to join tour groups, facilitated by a certified guide. They could practice talking to each other, sitting down, moving with each other, jumping on poseballs, buying and unpacking a box -- all the things that teachers who use SL in their classrooms have to do with their students.

A 10-minute wait for a tour group to start is something that most newbs would be more than willing to tolerate. If those people friended each other as well as their guide, they would enter SL with a cohort they could talk to and hang out with.

Posted: May 26th 2010 9:21PM (Unverified) said

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Here here, but LL has junked the Mentor programme, because (and brace yourself for typical Linden logic): there were TOO MANY Mentors for them to manage! Yep 'we had so many people wanting to help newbies we had to dump them all'. Even when there was a Mentor programme, they got little input from Lindens that wasn't hindrance rather than help. Groups of independent volunteers remain, but - so far as I know - lack the original Mentors' ability to visit Orientation sims. which is exactly where most help is needed as Deanya points out.
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Posted: May 25th 2010 6:21PM (Unverified) said

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I joined Secondlife in Febuary of this year, and that is good timing because if I had been only a little later, I would have missed out. I can say with every confidence, if my first log-in had been with the new viewer, it would have been my last (log-in).

Entry to Secondlife is disorientating and overwhelming. I have no idea why anyone would have thought adding excessive visual clutter, while eating up valuable screen real estate would be helpful in overcomming that problem. It would have been sufficiently offputting to prevent me re-logging if the new viewer were the first viewer I connected with.

I keep reading that the new viewer is supposed to better correlate with a typical internet browsing experience, but a sidetool bar does not mimic any typical internet browsing experience that I have ever had on any computer not infested with some kind of malware.

The side tool bar (for me at least) is one seriously ugly, inconvenient, screen cluttering eyesore and is the one factor that I just cannot get around when I try to connect with the new viewer. It actually gives me a headache trying to see what is going on in Secondlife with so much visual clutter, and I can only use the new viewer for a few minutes before it just becomes too much of a strain and I have to log out again.

There is no way I would have been "retained" if I had logged on and seen the new viewer's shrunken "window" into Secondlife, framed by the chaotic user interface, with the absurdly distracting side tool bar taking up considerable space and creating visual clutter that makes immersion in Secondlife impossible for me. I might as well try to watch my neighbour's tv.....from my lounge.

Maybe I am atypical for a new user, but I loved and continue to appreciate the simplicity, ease and self explanatory nature of the pie menu, and not only dislike the side tool bar, but find that it makes Secondlife unusuable.

For me, the new veiwer is more overwhelming and more difficult to figure out how to use than the one it replaces, which was in fact largely intuitive to me, and much less visually cluttered and chaotic, and hence much less overwhelming than trying to access Secondlife using the new viewer.

I for one would be somewhat surprised if the new veiwer is a help rather than a hindrance in respect of new user retention.

As another commentator pointed out, readily accessible, coherent documentation would probably be more much more productive (the wiki is frankly sub-standard for this purpose so far as new users are concerned, and the Secondlife website seems designed with obscurity as a primary goal).

A guided tour (as suggested by an earlier commentator) would also be good; preferably one where you do not get asked to fly out of a small room, through a doorway with a large overhang, as spending 5 or 10 minutes trying to manouver around in tight quarters in flying mode (keeping in mind that the new user is adept with neither flying nor using the camera) is a pretty big ask for the novice user who just logged minutes ago....yet in the current "orientation", there is no way to progress until you complete this rather difficult task. I would really love to know what the people who designed and approved that particular task as an orientation component were thinking.

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