Saturday, January 16, 2010

My two bits... to the SL is empty, it is too hard debate

I commented similarly here The New World Notes discussion... , you can read others comments before mine if you like.  I've seen a lot of posts lately about this and while I am late to the party, I thought I would chime in with a few brief points and then hopefully add an additional dimension to the discussion.
  • All communities go thru the social dynamic where those with the most invested drive the discussion and direction within the community.
  • The UI of Second Life is not more complicated to a new user, than Photoshop, Blender, GIMP or for that matter Office 07. This does not make it easy, but it is not exceptionally difficult.
  • I agree that Linden Labs could do more to improve those critical 1st 30 minutes. They are perhaps more painful for the new user than Photoshop, but that is not due to the UI. I believe it is because there is understandable fear on the part of a new user that they will embarrass themselves by doing something foolish or become hopelessly stuck in public. To some degree this is true of other social networking sites, but it is amplified by the real time immediacy and intimacy of ‘messing’ up in front of others in SL.
However there is an aspect of this discussion I’ve not seen mentioned much, it relates to the expectations an average new user might bring to Second Life. In other words; to those people who come into Second Life and say there is nothing to do, I ask what are you looking for? I think there is a fairly obvious answer to why they wonder what there is to do. Upon entering Second Life, they notice the lack of an obvious point system… you are not offered incentives for collecting things, there are no explicit puzzles to solve and there appears to be no one available to shoot. All of this IS possible in Second Life - if you look and work to find it, but it will not be immediately apparent. There is no imposed, required or obvious hierarchy of rank. Of course everyone brings these social expectations to second life and obviously Linden Labs imposes an external order; but, I believe part of the appeal of Second Life is the opportunity it provides to make a fresh social start; to be part of creating a community with as much order or lack of order as you or your chosen community desires.

In my opinion, to criticize veteran power users of Second Life as some cliquish oligarchy is disingenuous. I am sure the absence of an obvious ranking system makes some folks uncomfortable (dare I say those more comfortable within our more hierarchical real life). It is criticizing the customers who took the time to figure out how to use the shiny new tool faster than others, and because they want to use, add features and improve the tool. To that criticism; I say, give me a break… have you bothered to check for classes and user groups available within Second Life? If you do, you will find a lot of “oligarchs” sharing their expertise, often freely or in support of a product the user may have purchased.

Lastly there is the infamous “No One Is There – SL Is Empty” criticism. When you go into World of Warcraft, City of Heros or other MMOGs, what is one of the first things you do? You choose a server. How are the servers sorted? Geographically. This does not happen in Second Life and this could mean the users of the region you are exploring may be on the other side of the planet. This explains why in Second Life I have neighbors on one side I rarely see (oddly enough not so different in real life for many)… but why? They are live in France and are asleep when I am on. If a Second Life resident were to look at their list of friends, take a map with time zones… and do a scatter plot; they will find most of their friends will likely have at least these two features in common with them… language and real world locations near their time zone. Another more anecdotal example of what I would call the “more folks than you first notice” phenomena of is the NOAA site (YouTube of NOAA in SL ). If you go there you are likely to be the only one there. It is not the most creative site in the world, but it is a well done educational site hosted by the National Oceanographic and Atmosphere Agency. Yet their traffic statistics in second life averaged 50 people per day over a year. Many shop keepers would be thrilled by those numbers. (The Imagination Age blog

Clearly, a person’s experience in Second life is what they make of it. Of course Linden Labs should tailor their new user experience to be as painless as possible. There are many things they or any company does that irritate the hell out of their customers… and they should fix them. But to suggest that second life is being held back by some elite user base is a very narrow analysis. There are many factors contributing to the growth (some suggest decline or stagnancy) of Second Life.

I know I find myself wondering just what they are being held back from… the mass market adoption, such as that found with the ubiquitous flash applications in Facebook? Perhaps so, I do enjoy goofing around in Farmville a bit myself and I was a beta tester for MetaPlace… but they are (or sadly were in case of MetaPlace) well… too flat… by that I mean not immersive enough. Much of the time I want more than points to accumulate from my virtual world experience (If points were my priority I could get that playing solitaire). What I want from Linden Labs is the continued use (happily paid for) of the immersive creative community that makes Second Life (literally). I want to learn, grow and be challenged by Second Life, Reaction Grid and other OpenSim’s (perhaps even, one day, Blue Mars). If M. Linden and crew decide they would rather emulate Farmville as a profit making model… well good luck. I doubt I would be the only customer who would seek out alternative immersive communities; besides, there is room in the MetaVerse for everyone, if not there then where?

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