Op/Ed: The First-Hour Experience Before The First Hour

by Alphaville Herald on 06/07/10 at 4:55 am

by Gwyneth Llewelyn

Gwyneth Llewelyn

Unconfirmed rumours claim that Mark Kingdon’s "stepping down" might have been caused by a failure to address the goals he had set for himself and for Linden Lab in two years. Of course we don’t know all the goals, but, besides the creation Enterprise division, we know of two others: introducing a new viewer and enhancing the first-hour experience.

Only Linden Lab knows how many residents use each version when logging in. Allegedly, SL Viewer 2.X users are less than 10% — and less than the number of Emerald users. So it seems that people are not willing to switch as quickly as Kingdon hoped they would. If we think rationally about it, we shouldn’t be very surprised. Users hate to change interfaces. After all, Windows XP is still the most used version of Windows — after a decade of having been launched. SL 1.X is almost a decade old as well. In general, people only change interfaces with reluctance, unless they’re forced to do so, and that didn’t happen with Second Life. On the other hand, the extra nifty features of Emerald, combined with its patching to make it more robust, continues to outpace LL’s own efforts at "viewer stability", and it’s no small wonder Emerald users — or builders, who are totally frustrated by the weirdness of the building interface in SL 2.X — are unwilling to change to something less stable, way more different, quirky, and… missing all the nifty features they’re used to.

However, all new users logging in to SL for the first time use SL Viewer 2.1. And, guess what — they’re not staying around longer. I don’t have any idea if, on average, they stay less time around than they used to stay with 1.23. I would wildly guess that the difference is statistically irrelevant. The first-hour experience is as bad under 2.1 as under 1.23, and this hasn’t changed — kicking Mentors out, getting rid of the Orientation Islands, and pretty much reducing the impact of the Community Gateways has made little difference, either.

As a matter of fact, nothing that LL does seems to make any difference to the dreadful first-hour experience. Why?

I’d say that the consultant that answers that to LL should be paid their weight in gold.

Just take a look on how other online social thingies work. These days, they all are pretty much the same. You have a sign-up box, and, nowadays, you won’t even need to type all your data. You just put in your account data for Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Yahoo, Gmail, Live, or OpenID. The system just connects to your existing account on any of those services, and, based on the privacy settings, it just retrieves all the data. You don’t need to type long-winded profiles. Everything is pulled from your existing profiles. Even a picture. Even your preferred nickname. And when you log in, you’ll just need to use one of your existing IDs, you don’t need to remember a different sign-in login and password.

gwyneth and philip
Gwyneth asks: will Philip Linden will play the social computing card once he is done rezzin?

You’d think that this takes a lot of development time. Not at all. You just need one or two lines of code from Janrain Engage and you can get instant login access to any of those online social networking tools. These days, integration with those social networking sites and identity providers is very simple to do.

So the ideal Second Life registration page should just have one box: "Click to select your existing account". Only in the extreme case of someone who does not have any account on a social online network (and how many of those are potential SL users, anyway?) one would need to offer to fill in some profile data. But these will be extremely rare cases.

But that’s just the first step. The next step is to figure out, among your friends on any of those social tools, who is already registered on Second Life. Click a checkbox, and hey presto! All your friends are automatically added to your avatar’s friend list. (Of course I’m assuming that this would require a few new privacy settings — but how much development time does it take to add a checkbox on the Account section — "click here to allow your friends to check you up" — compared to designing a whole new viewer?)

Then, of course, after adding all the friends already on SL, the registration system would search through their groups and pick lists, and allow you to join any of the (open) groups where you already have friends. And perhaps the pick list from your friends would become a new folder of Landmarks ("Landmarks from Friends"). Cool! Now when you log in to SL, you already get a list of friends, groups, and places to visit. And you know that your friends already love them.

And let’s go further. Social sites like Facebook allow you to join groups and tell friends about hobbies and interests; other tools might just list tags and keywords. Well, that’s all you need to do a personalised search. You could immediately get a list of places (with landmarks), groups, and events related to the preferences you list on your favourite social networking site. These landmarks could come from the Destination Guide. These days, you can already share locations using AddThis and "like" them on Facebook; but simple things like tags are strangely lacking from the Destination Guide. There is so much more that could be done with this. As "veteran" residents, we might shun the Guide, but for brand new users, it might be a powerful tool to aid them on their first steps in SL.

Linden Lab could even be more creative. They could also immediately add a list of links for all sorts of feeds, perhaps even tied to one’s profile. Imagine having RSS feeds for the official blog (like many third-party viewers already do on their login page), links to Twitter, even perhaps feeds from some third-party organisations, like education blogs — but make them selective. Did you list "fashion" in your preferences? Then you’d get links to fashion feeds.

And obviously if you have linked your account with Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, and so forth, all this information would be on your profile, and on your friends’ profiles. If you have a Yahoo account, your photostream would be displayed on your profile; if you have a Google account, your Picasa stream; if Facebook, your Photos; and so forth. Make the in-world snapshot tool send pictures to all these accounts automatically, with proper crosslinking and extra information, and the pictures might even be clickable for landmarks (it’s not hard to do! Even Snapzilla works like that, and that has been developed eons ago without any help from the ‘Lab whatsoever), and possibly get the keywords from the parcel

So what would happen next? Instead of being dropped at a random spot inside the grid, all alone, without a clue on what to do next, you’d have a wealth of information about things that interest you directly. You might just look at the friends list and see who among your friends is currently online, and send them an IM begging for help. Or take a look at the list of landmarks and see if they catch your attention. Watch the RSS feeds for articles that might give you an idea of what’s going on and what to visit.

All this takes perhaps a week of development for an experienced Linden developer, and even for a recent employee, it shouldn’t take more than a month. Well, perhaps a bit longer. To get it working right, there is one hard task to accomplish: privacy.

privacy could be a consideration
Second Life viral marketing via Facebook is appealing, but privacy is a consideration

I’m sure that many of you were in a state of shock after reading the first paragraph :) Most of the active residents — not all, but definitely a huge majority of the ones that log in to Second Life every day, and have done so for several years — do not want that their friends know they’re in SL. They do not even want to expose their email addresses, much less inform others that they are somehow connected to Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Gmail, or any of the other "identity" providers or social networking sites.

And that has definitely to be respected, and some thought put into it. For instance, if someone’s privacy settings are set to "don’t reveal anything", the automatic information retrieval mechanism might simply ignore that user — or just anonymously retrieve suggestions for landmarks, groups and events, but don’t tell the new user where that information came from. Similarly, if your Facebook settings have disabled the profile to be shown to your Facebook friends, you might still connect your SL account to your Facebook one, but SL will not search for any of your Facebook friends. It might still retrieve information related to interests displayed on your on profile — if that information was made public. Getting this right might obviously take some serious thinking to programme it properly.

On the other hand, many users already publish a ton of information on those social networking sites and see Second Life as just a way to do the same, and for them, sharing information so that their friends find them easily is a good idea. An automated mechanism that searches through the whole of SL periodically and says "we have found a new friend of yours who just logged in to SL, do you want to add him/her?" would be a nice touch. You would always have the option to click on "no".

Some people have interpreted Linden Lab’s intention of "doing things with Facebook" as somehow posting your avatar name on Facebook’s profile, telling on your Wall where in SL you are, and copying chat transcripts automatically from SL to Facebook. That’s plain silly to do; I would be hard-pressed to believe that anyone would like that kind of privacy intrusion! I prefer to think on the other end of SL-Facebook integration: pulling information from Facebook so that new users in SL can meet their Facebook friends in-world, too. That’s a way more reasonable thing to do, if LL is still planning any kind of SL-Facebook integration. But why stop at Facebook? There are so many other social networking sites and identity providers. I would use them all, and use Janrain’s software to do that integration quickly. And there might be special uses too. LinkedIn and Plaxo are better for business-related interests; there are already several LinkedIn groups specifically for SL, targeting business or education. A business user or an educator might wish to immediately connect to in-world groups or go to in-world locations related to their interests, and pulling that information and presenting it to new users would be a great step towards making that first-hour experience as way more useful and less painful.

After all, the only thing that LL ever connected with (besides Avatars United which they bought) was Eventful. They certainly can do much better than that!

66 Responses to “Op/Ed: The First-Hour Experience Before The First Hour”

  1. Tali

    Jul 8th, 2010

    I don’t buy the bank analogy. Banks can’t suddenly decide to change the way they work so that anybody can withdraw any amount of money from a shared pool of what everybody have put in, or have its investors decide that they can hand out random amounts of money to 3rd parties.
    And if they made a technical glitch which allowed somebody to withdraw money from my account, there would be *hell* to pay.

    Social networks simply have not earned the trusts which controlled institutions like banks have (even if I am aware that banks *can* fold and lose money). In fact, some social networks have deliberately declared that such trust and protection is *explicitly* what they *do not* want, believing that everything should, indeed, be available to everybody.

    But from your comments, I think we are actually personally pretty much in agreement. I wouldn’t mind being able to easily and consistently build pseudonymity within the circles/areas I choose. What I do not want is a commercial company dictating when those circles should overlap, and I do not want to feed them data so they can suddenly one day decide to do it.

  2. Sweet Alabama

    Jul 8th, 2010

    Just a note: Daz3D has had from the beginning 2 CEOs, odd arrangement but it has worked all these years. Dan Farr is most of the tech, Chris Creek is mostly the art. There is is of course overlap. After the Gizmoz merger Chris is taking time off to focus on his art, something I can understand seeing as working as hard as they do, not a lot of time for play.

    Maybe that is what Philip needs though is 1 or 2 guys who have nearly his power and can focus on certain aspects, While big moves require all of them to agree. I am sure Philip would like a lot of the workload off his shoulders.

    So far as linking SL to a universal id, definitely if it were optional.

    Lets just hope we never hear: My boss found out I log into SL during work, because he saw me online through ‘social network here’ and now I’m fired. :P

  3. Selene Putzo

    Jul 8th, 2010

    “I’d say that the consultant that answers that to LL should be paid their weight in gold.”

    I can answer that.

    /me waits patiently for LL employee to IM… taps fingers on desk…. hums a little…

    OK – I’ll tell you here.
    The reason why most new players do not last longer than an hour is the simple reason of role play. Take Bloodlines for instance. In order to progress within that game you need souls and blood from new players. So what do you do? you set up a production line of little new alternative accounts all on a vast number of free e-mail addresses. Then for the small fee of L$599 you can manufacture at least 5 new souls and 25 liters of blood for your vampire every night. Has any vampire wondered how come a Bloodline King or Queen can have several thousand souls and yet their avatar is less than eighteen months old? That is your reason, and they hide their alt souls within a string of minions.

    The second reason why people are not staying in SL for longer than an hour isn’t the SL V2, it is the fact the genuine newbie (the customer LL really should be working hard to retain) rezzes somewhere completely wrong. They appear in a toxic area such as Ahern, Morris et-cetera…. far from a welcome or helpful start.

    A new player who has never used V1.23 will have no idea what all the fuss was about, so the viewer change was no effect on loss of new player. To throw a new player to the cesspit of the grid is a gross bad move if you want to keep them longer than 60 mins.

  4. It's Unfixable

    Jul 8th, 2010

    Selene nails it here, though I’d say the average keep time on a new arrival is about ten minutes, not 60. Welcome areas should be instanced per user, not collective dumping grounds where fucktards hang around waiting to demonstrate the size of their ePenii.

    If welcome areas were instanced, so that only one person could be in that instance at a time, the problem of griefers trying to undermine SL at the starting gate would completely disappear. They’d have nobody to harass.

    One of our favorite things to do was hang out in welcome areas and piss people off, so I can tell you from personal experience that They’re Doing It Wrong.

  5. darkfoxx

    Jul 9th, 2010

    Maybe its a good thing that newbies get experience with griefers and other ‘negative elements’ early on in the welcome areas. To cull the herd so to say… The ones that AR others for trivial things that have no real impact on anyones experience, we can do without imho. It will only help in giving the sl userbase a thicker skin and scare away the whiners that see a bit of particle spamming as the end of the world.

  6. It's Unfixable

    Jul 9th, 2010

    I used to think like that. After a while you start to realize that a) it’s fun to start with, but what you think will never get old actually does get old after a while (because the reaction never changes), and it starts being a pointless activity, and b) what’s the point of trolling an online game if nobody plays it? If you grief them right at the gate when they come in, you’re killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

  7. ra ra rasputin

    Jul 9th, 2010

    i have to disagree strongly with the “they where hired for a specific field”
    i for myself work in the software business (thats why i don’t code in my free time). If theres a new challenge the command is: learn it!
    once you learnd at least one proper Programming language you can code it all, its just a matter of time.

  8. brinda allen

    Jul 12th, 2010

    It’s Unfixable says a whole lot in a darn few words.
    Secondlife isn’t easy…it will never be easy and stay SL.
    Go to Moose Beach, Waterhead, Morris, and any number of infohubs and watch those that take “fun” in teasing or maybe as bad Ignoring nooblets.
    They took away the Help Islands where there was a bit of perceived “safety”…and then the Mentors that did work those islands were disbanded.
    Thickskinned my butt…griefing those that will someday pay the bill is just dumb.

  9. Gwyneth Llewelyn

    Jul 12th, 2010

    Well, I agree that the whole issue of dropping newbies on the grid needs some serious re-thinking at some point. From Welcome Areas we got infohubs and community gateways. One would think that community gateways would provide the required friendly initial experience, but somehow LL is not happy with the results from the community gateways, and while they haven’t been shut down yet, they’re not taking more applications. I’ve seen their numbers and they’re baffling. According to LL, it looks like getting griefed at infohubs actually retains more newbies than having a friendly “mentor”-type at Dublin, Luskwood, Caledon, even NCI, or other popular places where teams of very helpful and friendly volunteers are happy to spend some time helping out newbies. These numbers go against any rational logic!

    So I wonder what the alternative is… definitely another 64-million-dollar question :)

    And ra ra rasputin, in this industry, people like you are valuable, because they’re rare exceptions!

  10. Wolf Baginski

    Jul 12th, 2010

    There’s two aspects to the new UI.

    One is that things are in different places. Regardless of the quality of the new UI, we have to relearn how we do things.

    The other is that the new UI is a lousy design, starting at the basic level of the colour scheme. And while people are starting to devise a way of changing the skin, some things we seem to be stuck with.

    Why can’t a program use documented OS calls to match the user’s basic preferences for text and background colours? I’ve had better control of colour and contrast in MS-DOS programs, written more than twenty years ago.

  11. argo nurmi

    Jul 16th, 2010

    Gwyneth, a long time ago I was one of those noobs dumped into waterhead when it was really a raw place. I and many other noobs hung out there. The answer: it was the energy of the place that attracted us. Now I can almost see whatever is left of the governance team rolling their eyes. Yes, we were griefed all the time. Sometimes creatively and other times just annoying. Sure, it did get out of hand, sometimes. Rumors where that it was the most AR’ed place in SL but the secret of why people kept coming back was its energy. The Labs found a fix for that. Shut down scripts, rezzing, the spirit of the place well died. I don’t know how to balance this kind of fun with the sedate chat land waterhead is now. After a while I learned scripting and found new groups to hang out with but every once in a while I tp to waterhead to see whats become of the place.

  12. Darkfoxx

    Jul 17th, 2010

    Unfixable, having been at the butt of those jokes often enough (It was my club where the PN came first when they wanted to see if SL was any fun to troll people) the joke indeed gets very old and stale after only a very short time.

    I’ve come to the opinion however, that it’s the people that do the griefing and trolling, that keep it entertaining. Somehow they never learn that a spongebab or lemon party screaming cube is something everyone has seen by now, and simply doesnt have the shock effect it used to.

    I still laugh to myself when I think back to the American flag swastika they built on our dancefloor, thinking a couple of dutch furfags would give a flying shit XD

    Being griefed is not the end of the world, and the sooner ppl realize that (some never will, granted…) the sooner they will ignore it and go on with their second lives. While I dont applaud it, griefing is part of the SL experience, and it might as well be introduced to the new players at the earliest (in)convenience.

    It cant do any harm after all, and as Argo said, it livens the place up a bit. I do the same, hang around the welcome areas in the hopes of seeing someone hop around thinking their afro/awesomeface/mudkips is the coolest thing ever. (or whichever meme is popular today, I havent been lurking in a long while now)

  13. Hiro Pendragon

    Jul 17th, 2010


    Indeed, you just spewed the rationalization of griefers. “It’s not the end of the world” and “it doesn’t really hurt anyone”. The first, of course, is a false dichotomy – just because the world isn’t ending doesn’t mean something isn’t bad. The second is a matter of perspective. If someone walked up to me on the street in the physical world and held up a nazi flag in my face, I’m certain any reasonable person would agree that would be unacceptable behavior.

    But more importantly, anyone who attempts to play off nazi symbology as harmless “livening up” is not someone who is going to be taken seriously by many people, and I think you nullified any chances of your arguments being worth anything by saying that you laugh at swastika griefing.

  14. Darkfoxx

    Jul 17th, 2010

    I dont laugh at the swastika griefing itself: I laugh at the griefer’s ideas that a swastika made up from American flags, is somehow offensive to me, at his idea that whatever he can pull out of his hat, will result in me bawwwwing and running to the Lindens to ban him off my perfect world.

    That what you call a false dichotomy, I call a matter of perspective. There is not a single thing that they can do to my SL experience, that LL itself hasn’t fucked up already in the past, present and probably future.

    Anyone remember the weekly updating process that included shutting down all of LL’s servers, booting everyone out for hours, in some cases, a whole day, on end?

    and your RL example of someone showing you a nazi flag… If that gets you up in arms, better stay away from any and all WW2 musea.
    A swastika in and by itself, shouldnt offend anyone. It’s an Indian peace symbol after all… The ideas behind the nazi swastika, is what people should be offended about.

    When I say it’s not the end of the world, I mean the following: you can just mute them, and go about your buisness as if they were never there. And the sooner new players learn that, the better their SL experience will be. and we all know what griefers want, a reaction, any reaction. If muted, you can simply rob them of that, and they will go elsewhere.

    Im not saying it’s all cool, and nice, and perfect, but really it is hardly the hyoooge problem people are making it out to be. Look at Prok if you need the perfect example of what NOT to do.

  15. Hiro Pendragon

    Jul 18th, 2010


    I guess we disagree about your example. I see a (reverse) swastika as a symbol. If the context is nazi, I don’t care if it’s made out of Eggo waffles – it’s still offensive.

    As for you bitterness at Linden Lab – I empathize as I’ve heard plenty of stories people losing inventory, land, etc, but regardless, if one person punches me in the face, I’m still going to be pissed off if someone else punches me in the face. I do remember Linden Lab’s Wednesday Hurricanes, as we called them. It was 2004 – 2005 and their product was still de facto Beta.

    RE: The museum – you completely miss my point. If I go to a WWII museum, any nazi symbology is in *context* – I expect it there. My example was on the street in public – where it’s not only not expected, but not desired. And you’re right and also slightly wrong about the roots of the symbol. The Indian swastika is generally counter-clockwise, and the nazi one is always clockwise. It’s also fairly apparently when something is part of hate speech versus in context of Indian art or religious symbols. Again, *context*.

    I shouldn’t have to mute people. Second Life, to become widely popular, needs to work more like the Internet. Needs to feel more like the Internet. When I surf Amazon.com, I don’t expect to find nazi comments when I look up a book. I need to go out of my way to head to a more loosely-government site (let’s say, 4chan), to encounter that. I don’t go to basic websites and get griefed.

    I suspect the root of why you view this differently is based on one simple word. “Players”. You consider Second Life a game in the way you express this. The context you’ve set is one more similar to Call of Duty, where I might expect some 14 year old ninny to be swearing nazi anti-gay expletives because I got a lucky shot on him. I see Second Life as the Internet, where there are “users” or “visitors”. Ultimately, this is a completely different discussion, and at the moment, it’s best I simple point this out at least so you (and others) understand that there’s this larger idea that may be the root of the differences in our opinions.

    RE: Prok – Again, citing an extreme doesn’t prove a point about a common person.

    Thanks for the rationale discussion though – it’s much appreciated!

  16. [...] Implement single sign-on using Janrain to get people to create their new accounts on SL far more quicklier. I’ve discussed why this is so important more fully on the Alphaville Herald. [...]

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