Taking Second Life to the Masses


Megaus Gasparini (aka CannedTuna) relaxes in Second Life

I have discussed Second Life previously. It’s the imersive 3D world by Linden Labs. It’s the type of online application that doesn’t really sit anywhere that can be categorised. With Second Life, I find you tend to visit, gain interest then leave, maybe you come back from time to time, maybe you don’t. Second Life does tend to have a high attrition rate (up to 85%).

Coming back

Recently I have revisited Second Life, mainly prompted via several factors, one being a determination to reset my avatar after a nasty griefing incident and the other because of the start up of the SIM for the The Podcast Network HQ. This time with my return to Second Life was with good size group of RL friends and associates (Cameron Reilly, Duncan Riley, Michael Newby, Sarah Issacson, Nathanael Boehm, Bronwen Clune, Kathryn Greenhill, Sue Waters, Linda Gehard, Richard Giles, John Johnston, Sue Hickton, Nick Hodge, Adam Purcell, Cait and a heap more) this does to a degree change the focus of Second Life as it becomes a real social gathering.

This got me thinking, what does Second Life want to be, seriously. It’s not just a social networking site, well in fact it does this poorly, it’s very hard to find people even if you know their avatar unless they are on you friends list or your share of common group interest. It’s an online store, but only for interests within Second Life. It’s a sex shop, but again only for Second Life. So in a way Second Life is all these things and none, its very anally focused on its own walled garden. It doesn’t seem to fit the open SNS we are all looking for.

Things are Changing

However it’s been branching out into becoming an educational facility; with various educational institutions setting up with extensive resources in Second Life. With the advent of the introduction of audio in August it is now possible to have twenty or so people conversing at once. This has an interesting implication for the conducting of remote meetings, meetups or just gatherings of like minded people. And so the tech sectors of business are now exploring Second Life as a central virtual meeting place as Duncan Riley points out.

It has been interesting to watch the effect that instant social networking sites (SNS) such as twitter are having on the uptake of Second Life. This is especially true with regard to TPN island in Second Life. People announce on twitter they are in Second Life at TPN island, and usually a group of people on twitter will follow them into Second Life, some for the first time.

Still too hard

Now it is this uptake of usually technical savvy newbies into Second Life that is of interest. It is the interface of Second Life with it’s complex menu structure, HUD controls and general lack of easy reference to the keyboard shortcuts; would be nice to have them in SL. that can make Second Life an hard tool to master even for a the technical savvy. Now if the tech-gurus of the common man are having problems in the first few sessions, how can it be expected that the average person can hope to cope in Second Life, as Amy Gahran explains.

People are used to the usual web based paradigm of the form, even the drop down menu navigation systems from desktop applications. But then you bring in an element of game play, which they may or may not be familiar with and you start to cross the boundaries. Social networking sites like Facebook have now started to move into the main stream, with everyday people outside of the early adopters getting onboard. Signing up is not hard, it’s just a form a on the web, interaction with Facebook again just forms and a few buttons in the traditional web based interface paradigm that we are used to.

In Second Life however; you sign up on at web site, okay that’s fine. Then you download software (road block one), then you install the software (maybe road block two). Next you login and create the avatar and go through orientation island (road block three). Then you are left to fend for yourself, get bored or just not see the point of it all (road block four). This is especially true if you login to Second Life when the western world in the northern hemisphere is asleep; it can be like a ghost town with just tumbleweeds. Now I have not even started on the confusing menu and the other interface aspects.

Consider you next door neighbor who is not computer savvy on Second Life. Then consider is Second Life ready for the masses, will it every be ready? Maybe it needs to just have a simple signup. The how about considering maybe it needs a mobile interface, A 3D-world SNS for the mobile phone as Daniel Terdiman suggests.

What do you think is Second Life ready for the big time or is it just an early adopter toy?

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